Urban Legends: Contracting AIDS Through Secretive Injections

Medical syringe and medical glove
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A viral scare story that has been making the rounds since at least 1998 says random victims in at least two different countries were unknowingly injected with the AIDS virus in crowded movie theaters and nightclubs. The story is false, and despite great advances in HIV/AIDS research and understanding of the disease, the rumor has refused to die. Read on to learn what the emails and viral postings are claiming, what folks have been saying about the story, and the facts about the matter according to health officials.

Sample Email

This email first appeared on May 21, 1998, and is fairly representative of the rumor:

Be careful the next time you go to a cinema. These people could be anywhere!! An experience of a friend of my brother's wife left me speechless. Please do send this out to everyone you know. This incident occurred in Bombay's Metro cinema (Among the best in town). They were a group of 6-7 College girls & they went to the theater to see a movie. During the show one of the girls felt a slight pinprick but did not pay much attention to it.
After sometime that place began to itch. So she scratched herself and then saw a bit of blood on her hands. She assumed that she had caused it. At the end of the show, her friend noticed a sticker on her dress and read the caption. It read "Welcome to the world of AIDS." She tried to pass it off as a practical joke but when she went for a blood test a couple of weeks later (just to be sure), she found herself HIV Positive.
When she complained to the cops, they mentioned that her story was one of the many such cases they had received. It seems the operator uses a syringe to transfer a bit of his/her infected blood to the person sitting ahead of him/her. A horrible experience for the victim and also the family & friends. The WORST bit is that the person who does it gains NOTHING where as the victim loses EVERYTHING. So, be careful...

Analysis: No "AIDS" Mary

Like her historical prototype Typhoid Mary, AIDS Mary's claim to fame was spreading a deadly disease. First documented by folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand in his 1989 book, "Curses! Broiled Again!" the birth of the AIDS Mary story coincided with the most virulent phase of the HIV epidemic in America. It took the form of a cautionary tale.

After a night of casual sex with a woman he doesn't know, the story went, a man wakes up the next morning to find the words, "Welcome to the world of AIDS," scrawled in lipstick across his bathroom mirror. Supposedly, the woman had contracted the fatal disease from a previous lover and swore to purposely pass it on to every man she could seduce.

In reality, there was no such person as "AIDS Mary." Notwithstanding the documentation of several cases of HIV carriers knowingly putting multiple partners at risk for the disease by sleeping with them—including one involving an HIV-positive woman who claimed she had unprotected sex with at least two dozen men as an act of revenge—the character of AIDS Mary was a folk invention, an imaginative expression of the fear and ignorance that surrounded the epidemic in the mid-1980s.

No AIDS by "Stealth Injection"

New variants circulating since the late 1990s retain the original punchline—"Welcome to the world of AIDS"—but the plot of the story has taken a decidedly darker and creepier turn. It's no longer the indulgence in careless sex with a stranger that seals the victims' doom, but simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocent people are being randomly chosen for infection by anonymous villains, readers are told. It's AIDS by "stealth injection."

Avert, a group that has been at the forefront of the HIV response since 1986, explains how you actually do gets AIDS—and it's not from stealth injections in nightclubs. You also can't contract AIDS from the air, water, toilet seats, insects, sweat, tattoo piercings, or even kissing, says Avert. The only cases of people contracting AIDS via syringe is by injecting drugs with a needle that has infected blood in it.

The lesson here is certainly to pay attention to the health issues presented by serious diseases like HIV/AIDS, but get your information from reliable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and not from unsubstantiated chain emails.