Normandy High School in St. Louis, MO, sent notes home with students this week warning them of a potential outbreak of HIV. The county health department traced a positive test back to the high school and determined that several students may have been exposed, the first time such an investigation had led to a school, according to officials. The understandably frightening newsletter, much more serious than the "head lice" letters of yore, has caused a panic.
The health department spokesman said, "There is concern, but we really don't want to raise alarms here. This is not some major new outbreak or method of transmission, and there's no evidence to suggest it was deliberately being spread." Despite his efforts at reassurance, speculation over who has it is rampant. The school is establishing a testing center, though the mostly sexually-active student body is split over whether to get tested, many are opting to even though according to one student, "most of them know to use condoms."
The school fears the stigma of the publicity with one junior saying, "But now people are going to say, 'He goes to Normandy, he has AIDS.'" Currently about five percent of HIV cases in St. Louis are diagnosed to teenagers. Is transparency and testing in the school the safest and smartest idea? What about privacy implications? How did we make the jump from head lice to HIV?