Human populations are at risk from outbreaks of new diseases. Are their reasons why modern humans might be more prone to infectious disease epidemics, and where do these come from?
Modern Humans and their Increased Risk of Contracting HIV/AIDS
Over time, the lives humans live have evolved and changed drastically. These changes have been beneficial in many ways, such as the availability to medication, travel, and an overall boom in technological advances. However, all these changes in the world come with a price. Humans now, more than ever, are prone to infectious disease epidemics such as the Human Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV)/Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that over time, develops into AIDS. Its key mode of transmission is through sexual intercourse (Over & Piot 1991), however, is also transmitted through other sexual acts such as oral sex, blood, and shared needles. An increase in travel over the last 30 years and families relocating to new areas, puts humans at a higher risk of contracting HIV, as it is then likely to spread in new places that weren’t previously affected by the virus. The use of methamphetamine and heroin is increasing in today’s society and is at a higher rate than ever before. These drugs are often injected into the body and needles are often shared, which puts drug users at an increased risk of becoming infected with HIV. There is also an increase in prostitution in the community, which puts both men and women at risk of the virus. These factors all increase modern humans’ likelihood of being part of an HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Technological advances are being made every day in our current society; however, this wasn’t always the way. We now have more ways to travel than ever before, and although this is beneficial, as it allows us to travel the world and experience new places, cultures and languages, it comes at a risk. Throughout history, relocation of humans has been a large cause of the spread of many infectious diseases, and the increase in amount, speed and distance of travel in modern times is heightening the risk of diseases spreading at an unparalleled rate (Wilson 1995). Due to HIV’s mode of transmission, your behaviour determines your risk of contracting it, travellers specifically, being at a high risk (Perrin et al. 2003). As first-world countries continue to develop, immigrants continue travelling to these places to seek a better life for themselves and their family. Recent data has shown that people travelling from Europe and immigrants from places of high HIV prevalence have played a large part in increasing the number of HIV cases in northern and western Europe (Perrin et al. 2003). During the earliest spread of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, many people migrated from rural areas to urbanised areas. Data has shown that this migration leads to a higher infection rate of HIV in Africa (Perrin et al. 2003). With world travel increasing by ~3-5% annually in the past 10 years (Lee et al. 2017), the data trend shown in Africa is likely to be seen in many other countries across the planet. With a recent boom in online dating, comes a boom in travelling for sexual reasons. Not only this, travellers have an increased likelihood of engaging in unsafe sexual acts and substance use (Benotsch et al. 2010). An American study has demonstrated “Men on vacation reported 11 times more non-main sexual partners with whom they had engaged in unprotected anal intercourse at the resort, versus at their homes” (Benotsch et al. 2010 pp. 395-405). This data shows us that when travelling, humans have a higher tendency to participate in unprotected sexual acts, which therefore increases their risk of contracting HIV, thus also increasing the chance of spreading the virus to numerous people in the area. This potentially may cause an epidemic if it is a popular travel destination, and/or if travellers are coming from HIV-prevalent areas. Through increased travel, new reasons for travel, and migration of the human population, humans are at a higher risk of contracting HIV and therefore are more prone to HIV/AIDS epidemics.
HIV and AIDS is a prevalent issues among drug users, specifically those that inject their illicit substances, as it is common to share and reuse needles. Through sharing needles, HIV is spread by tiny amounts of the previous user’s blood remaining on the needle, and then being placed into the next person’s body. If the first user is infected with HIV/AIDS, it will then be passed on to the second user and so on (Normand et al.1995). The sharing of needles is common in groups of drug users as there isn’t a large availability of sterile injection equipment (Normand et al. 1995). Not only this, drug users would often use majority of their money on the drug itself, rather than buying new equipment to use the drug safely. Both methamphetamine and heroine are illicit drugs that can be used by injecting it into the bloodstream. One of the fastest-growing drugs in today’s society is methamphetamine (Passaro et al. 2015). People that use methamphetamine have been found to be more likely than people who don’t use the substance, to contract HIV. As well as this, the use of methamphetamine is seen to contribute to the doubling risk of men who have sex with men acquiring the virus (Passaro et al. 2015). A study in Cape Town, South Africa surveyed 239 heroin users, the results showed – “Overall, 24% of all the participants reported that they had injected heroin in the past 30 days and 89% of those had shared a needle at least once during that period” (Plüddemann et al. 2011, pp. 273-279). Not only this, 3% of those people admitted to being infected with HIV, and of the total heroin users surveyed, use of condoms was limited (Plüddemann et al. 2011). The use of illicit drugs often correlates to unsafe sexual acts (Prestage et al. 2009), which inherently increases drug users’ chance of becoming infected with HIV through the exchange of bodily fluids. Not only does using illicit drugs increase your chance of contracting HIV and developing AIDS, but it has also been shown to decrease a person’s chance of participating in treatment (Lucas et al. 2001). A study completed at an HIV clinic showed that only 18% of non-drug users were not successful in making use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), compared to 44% of participants that were using drugs (Lucas et al. 2001). This difference is very large and therefore puts drug users with HIV at a much higher risk of their disease developing into AIDS, and death by the disease. The use of methamphetamine, heroin and other illicit substances is increasing dramatically in today’s society (Al-Tayylb et al. 2017). This combined with large risk-taking activities performed by drug users, such as sharing needles and unsafe sex, places modern humans at an increased risk of contracting HIV and being more prone to the HIV/AIDS worldwide epidemic.
While travel and illicit drug use is increasing, so too is the volume of prostitution. Working in the sex industry can be considered a risk-taking behaviour for numerous reasons, one being the higher possibility of being exposed to HIV/AIDS. This is due to the fact that, as studies have shown, a person with several sexual partners and people that do not use condoms are at a heightened risk; prostitutes/sex workers often falling into not just one, but both of these categories (Nag 2001). A study in Kinshasa, in The Democratic Republic Of The Congo, surveyed 1233 prostitutes. Regardless of them knowing a decent amount about AIDS and other STIs, 38% the participants admitted to not doing anything intentional to protect themselves from HIV or any other STI (Nzila et al. 1991). This statistic had increased by 8% from a similar study done just two years earlier (Nzila et al. 1991). These numbers show the rapid growth in either prostitution, unprotected sex or both. In 1989, STIs began to increase in the Czech Republic, this including HIV/AIDS (Kastankova 1995). Reasons for this include increased travel, a sexual revolution, and the expansion of the field of sex work (Kastankova 1995). The laws around prostitution were relaxed, making it no longer an illegal occupation in the Czech Republic. Prostitution thus became appealing to many, as it also had a very appealing income. The increase in prostitutes is also placing modern humans at a higher risk of acquiring HIV, as while prostitution seems like an appealing line of work, many prostitutes often have to make the decision between earning money and safe sex, as many clients will not wear condoms (Choi 2011). If the prostitute is in need of money, they are then likely to proceed having unsafe sex with their clients and placing themselves at great risk of becoming infected. With the sex market expanding due to legalisation (Cho et al. Neumayer 2013) in many countries across the world, so too is HIV positive prostitutes. Through increased participation in risk behaviours such as unsafe sex and sex with multiple people, modern humans are much more prone to HIV/AIDS epidemics than 40 years ago.
Through evolution, humans are changing over time, so too is technology and our day-to-day lives. As the world evolves, humans alter their behaviour (both consciously and subconsciously) to make use of the planet and what we have available to us. There are both positives and negatives to this, a negative being becoming increasingly prone to infectious disease epidemics, such as the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic. Modern humans are travelling at a rate never seen before, this increase in travel is causing the transmission of the virus to more widespread, over numerous countries. As well as this, travellers are more inclined to withhold from using protection during intercourse, travel for sexual reasons and use illicit drugs and participate in binge drinking. Humans are also becoming more prone to the HIV/AIDS epidemic as there is an increase in the use of injectable illicit drugs such as methamphetamine and heroin. Studies have shown these drug users often participate in risk-taking behaviours such as unsafe sex and sharing needles, which in turn give them an increased chance of acquiring HIV. Adding to this, drug users are often found to participate less in HIV/AIDS treatment than non-drug users. The volume of prostitution is increasing in modern humans; prostitutes are at a higher risk of contracting HIV through their means of employment, than people of other occupations. Studies have demonstrated that prostitutes have a higher chance of contracting HIV through lack of preventative measures such as condoms and being sexually involved with multiple people in short periods of time.
All these factors contribute to modern humans’ increased risk of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and are a factor as to why modern humans are more prone to infectious disease epidemics.
- Al-Tayylb, A., Koester, S., Langegger, S. & Raville L. 2017. ‘Heroin and Methamphetamine Injection: And Emerging Drug Use Pattern’, Substance Use & Misuse, 52(8): 1051-1058.
- Benotsch, E. G., Martin A. M., Espil, F. M., Nettles, C. D., Seal, D. W. & Pinkerton, S. D. 2010. ‘Internet Use, Recreational Travel, and HIV Risk Behaviours in Men Who Have Sex With Men’, Journal of Community Health, 36: 398-405.
- Choi, S. Y. P. 2011. ‘State Control, Female Prostitution and HIV Prevention in China’, Cambridge University Press, 205: 96-114.
- Kastankova, V. 1995. ‘Increasing sexually transmitted disease rates among prostitues in the Czech Republic’ Journal of Community Health, 20(2): 219-222.
- Lee, V. C., Sullivan P. S. & Baral, S. D. 2017. ‘Global travel and HIV/STI epidemics among men who have sex with men: what does the future hold?’, Sexual Health, 14(2): 51-58.
- Nag, M. 2001. ‘Anthropological Perspectives on Prostitution and AIDS in India’, Economic and Political Weekly, 36(43): 4025-4030.
- Normand, J., Vlahov, D. & Moses, L. E. 1995. ‘Preventing HIV Transmission: The Role of Sterile Needles and Bleach’, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Executive Summary p. 2.
- Nzila, N., Laga, M., Thiam, M. A., Mayimona, K., Edidi, B., Dyck, E. V., Behets, F., Hassig, S., Nelson, A., Mokwa, K., Ashley, R. L., Piot, P. & Ryder, R. W. 1991. ‘HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases among female prostitutes in Kinshasa’ Aids, 715-722.
- Over, M., & Piot, P. 1991. ‘HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases’, In: Jamison D. T., Mosely W. H., Measham, A. R. Disease control priorities in developing countries. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 455.
- Passaro, R. C., Pandhare, J., Qian, H.-Z. & Dash, C. 2015. ‘The Complex Interaction Between Methamphetamine Abuse and HIV-1 Pathogenisis’ Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology, 10: 477-486.
- Perrin, L., Kaiser, L. & Yerly, S. 2003. ‘Travel and the spread of HIV-1 genetic variants’, The Lancet, Infectious Diseases, 3(1): 22-27.
- Plüddemann, A., Parry, C. D. H., Flisher, A. J. & Jordaan, E. 2011. ‘Heroin Users in Cape Town, South Africa: Injecting Practices, HIV-Related Risk Behaviours, and Other Health Consequences’ Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 40(3) Forthieth Anniversary Edition: 273-279.
- Prestage, G., Jin, F., Kippax, S., Zablotska, I., Imrie, J. & Grulich, A. 2009. ‘Use of Illicit Drugs and Erectile Dysfunction Medication and Subsequent HIV Infection among Gay Men in Sydney, Australia’, The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(8): 2311-2320.
- Wilson, M. E. 1995. ‘Travel and the emergence of infectious diseases’, Emerging Infectious Disease, 1(2): 39-46.