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Soviet describes AIDS errors.

Soviet describes AIDS errors

It didn't make sense. Of 17 million men screened in the Soviet Union as of 1988, only five had antibodies indicating HIV infection. Of 4 million women, only eight tested positive. So officials were surprised in December 1988 to learn of two positive tests in the small city of Elista near the Caspian Sea, where no AIDS cases had ever been seen.

What followed was the discovery of a public health debacle that left at least 84 children and seven nursing mothers infected with HIV, and disturbing new evidence that the AIDS virus can pass from baby to mother during breast feeding.

Vadim V. Pokrovsky of the Central Institute of Epidemiology in Moscow now reveals details of the Elista tragedy, which first drew official attention when an ill baby tested positive for HIV and an unrelated adult woman tested positive after donating blood. Investigators found that the woman and child had previously had overlapping stays in the same local hospital. Testing of other children and adults hospitalized during that same period revealed HIV infections in 61 children and seven mothers. Of 5,000 hospital staff and family contacts tested, only one infected woman's husband tested positive.

From there, medical investigators pieced together the story: The man had become infected years earlier while in Africa, then infected his wife, who bore an HIV-infected baby. Not knowing of the baby's infection, hospital workers caring for the infant "made a lot of mistakes in their work," says Pokrovsky. They repeatedly failed to sterilize a syringe, spreading the infection to other babies--some of whom were later transferred to another hospital, where the same practice resulted in two further outbreaks infecting 23 more infants.

Moreover, some of the babies developed bleeding oral sores that apparently allowed spread of the virus to seven mothers through small fissures in their breasts during breast feeding. The mothers, now HIV positive, had no other known risk factors for AIDS. All told, the outbreak went on for more than eight months. One child has died, and three children have AIDS. "This showed us there are no 'risk groups' for AIDS," warns Pokrovsky. "All human beings are at risk of this infection."

A police investigation is underway, he adds. And the Elista hospital chief "is now unemployed."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Biomedicine
Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 17, 1989
Previous Article:... and applying them to public policy.
Next Article:Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

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