You did a wonderful job of explaining HIV/AIDS for very young children. That’s not something that’s easy to do. I especially was pleased to see the part about the hugs. There’s still so much fear and bigotry surrounding AIDS – I’d like to see more people understand that there’s little risk from those who are known to be HIV positive. Those people are probably the least of their worries. It’s the people who have not been tested and don’t know they’re HIV positive who may be putting others at risk.
Dr. Greene’s Answer:
This brings up many meaty, practical questions. Should parents worry about their children getting AIDS from playing at the house of someone with HIV? What about contact sports for a child with HIV? What about children pricking their fingers to become blood brothers or blood sisters? What about infected diapers in a day care center? What should parents really do?
First, from an early age teach your children to respect blood. Help them to see blood as a beautiful, mysterious, powerful, life force – that is also quite dangerous. Teach them to avoid contact with others’ blood the same way they would avoid contact with an electrical outlet. Teach them to wash quickly and thoroughly when they do have contact.
Teach your children to see stool as a waste product. Stool is that which the body’s wisdom recognizes as refuse. Its contents are always potentially infectious or dangerous. Teach your children to wash their hands as a part of the toileting routine. Day care workers need to learn to wear gloves and wash their hands when changing diapers, and to disinfect the changing area after diapering.
These concepts are part of something called universal precaution. They are important in preventing the spread of many kinds of diseases, and are just as important if your child has no known contact with someone with HIV.
Next, teach your children to respect and welcome people. Friends and family are of incalculable value. The risk of catching HIV from one of them is extremely small. Your child will not become infected by being in the same classroom, sitting at the same lunch table, etc. The overwhelming majority of cases of HIV are transmitted through full scale blood transfusions, or intravenous drug use, or sexual intercourse – not from the degree of contact that children typically have (even children biting in a day care).
Should a child with HIV play contact sports? Should Magic Johnson return to the NBA? More to the point, would I let my own child play contact sports if I knew there were a person with HIV on the team? The answer is yes, I would.
There is a risk, but it is minuscule. Life is a series of risks. You take a greater risk everyday when you put your child in a car.
When we close our hearts to someone else, we may think that we are insulating ourselves, or those we love, from danger. The very act of closing our hearts, though, often does more damage than the risk we are trying to avoid.