Athletes With Aids Essay

"I believe it would be stupid," de Merode said. "Everybody would be afraid, there would be a lot of rumors and things. It would be completely ridiculous."

De Merode said there was "absolutely no reason" for Louganis to have informed officials, doctors and other competitors that he was infected with H.I.V. when he cut his head during a preliminary round of springboard diving at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.

"It wouldn't have changed anything for himself or others," de Merode said. "People would have been unjustifiably afraid. I believe it is better if nobody knows."

Park Seh Jik, chairman of the Seoul Olympic organizing committee, disagreed with de Merode's stance on Louganis, telling the Reuters news agency: "It is really regrettable that he competed in the final round of the Olympics if he knew he was H.I.V.-positive. It is not morally right, particularly because he was injured and bled."

Mark Bradshaw of Columbus, Ohio, the diver who immediately followed Louganis after he cut his head, said he accepted Louganis's silence. But Bradshaw suggested in an interview Wednesday night that in the future athletes infected with H.I.V. or AIDS should alert medical personnel to their condition.

Yesterday, Dr. Jim Montgomery, vice chairman of the United States Olympic Committee's sports medicine committee, said testing for AIDS should be considered for athletes in contact sports such as wrestling and boxing, where athletes are susceptible to cuts and spilled blood.

He cautioned, along with other doctors, however, that "it's a very, very low probability that AIDS will be spread through sports."

"My thoughts, and these are only my thoughts, are that on an international basis, we should consider checking for the AIDS virus in the very close contact sports, mainly wrestling and boxing," Montgomery said by telephone from Dallas, where he is an orthopedic surgeon. "But I repeat, I still do not feel there has been any documented transmission of AIDS in sports."

The U.S.O.C. provides voluntary testing for H.I.V., but, like other sports organizations, does not mandate testing or seek to force athletes to announce that they are infected. Instead, the committee relies on educating athletes about contagious diseases such as H.I.V. through pamphlets, briefings and by providing access to condoms.

Dr. David Joyner, chairman of the U.S.O.C. sports medicine committee, reiterated yesterday that AIDS is primarily a sexually transmitted disease and that "there has never been a confirmed case in the world of athlete-to-athlete transmission of H.I.V. caused by an athletic event." In that light, he said, his committee would not recommend testing athletes for H.I.V.

"Scientific information does not support that as an appropriate thing to do," Joyner said from Florida. "Just as important is the right to privacy in this country."

The Clinton Administration waived a visa rule last summer and allowed foreigners with H.I.V. to compete in the Gay Games in New York. Because the I.O.C. does not test athletes for H.I.V., there would seem to be no way, other than a voluntary admission, of identifying infected competitors at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. The I.O.C. allows athletes known to be infected with H.I.V. to compete if they have medical approval, taking into account the particular sport and the risk to the health of the athlete and his or her teammates and opponents.

Since 1989, the U.S.O.C. has had in place strict procedures for dealing with blood, such as wearing protective gloves. The I.O.C. requires athletes who sustain an open wound to stop participating until the wound is closed. Athletes with blood on their uniforms must change uniforms.

"We presume everyone has the potential to transmit blood-borne illness," said Dr. James Puffer of the U.C.L.A. Medical Center, the physician who stitched Louganis's scalp wound in Seoul. "It doesn't make a difference if we know someone has it or not. We deal with handling blood in the same way."

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Robert Klein's face is as white as the paper cup he is holding in his hands. He stands near the finish line at the Frankfurt Marathon trying to drink water, but he can't because his hands are shaking too much. Klein is completely exhausted. He had hoped to run the race in less than four hours, but he was two minutes too slow. He curses.

Robert Klein, 47, is a passionate runner. He has run eight marathons in the last 16 months, including races in Berlin, Copenhagen and Barcelona. He loves running through the streets of a city, surrounding by a crowd of fellow athletes. That's when he feels that he can live a normal life.

"I go to the starting line with thousands of healthy people. And even though I'm sick, I can show them that I too can make it to the finish line," he says.

Klein is HIV positive. When he was diagnosed in 1996, he was convinced he had no more than five years left to live. He wrote himself off, and he started smoking and drinking. But then, two years ago, he discovered running. He saw a poster hanging on the wall at his doctor's office, advertising a group that was looking for HIV positive people to train for a marathon. Klein signed up, and he has been running ever since. He runs up to 100 kilometers (63 miles) a week along the Main River. He plans to run in the New York City Marathon this year. Running, says Klein, "is my only chance to show the world that I'm still a full-fledged human being."

AIDS, caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is the world's sixth leading cause of death. More than 33 million people are infected worldwide, including about 67,000 in Germany, of which about 80 percent are men. There is no vaccination against HIV and no cure for AIDS. Nevertheless, the diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. The treatment options are now so effective that HIV positive individuals can lead a virtually unrestricted life.

Sport Versus Fear

That life also includes exercise and sports. There is a consensus among doctors that physical exertion does not pose a risk to people who are infected with HIV but have not had any symptoms of AIDS, such as pneumonia. In fact, exercise is seen as an effective means of treatment. It helps people cope with the disease and strengthens their self-confidence. Every unit of training he completes, says marathon runner Klein, is a form of validation for him, proof of his ability to conquer his fears. It allows him to say to himself: "Look at me, I'm still alive."

But for HIV-infected athletes, the biggest challenge is overcoming the prejudices held by their healthy counterparts.

A man with a sturdy physique, his body decorated with tattoos, is sitting in the cafeteria of an indoor pool in Berlin. He goes by the name "Ole Lüder" and prefers not to see his real name in print. Lüder is a German swimming champion in his age group. Some of his teammates are sitting at the next table. Lüder is loud and forthright; they all know that he has been positive for six years.

Lüder leads the life of a top athlete. He likes the feeling of being exhausted, of testing his limits as a swimmer, he says. A computer science student, he goes to swim practice six days a week, spending a total of 20 hours in the water. "I go to practice, even on days when the medication causes diarrhea and pain, or when I'm tired," says Lüder.

'Magic'

Until the mid-1990s, HIV patients had to take up to 40 pills a day. The drugs have now improved to the point where only one pill a day is often sufficient. But the side effects haven't gone away. Many drugs interfere with fat metabolism, which increases the patients' already elevated risk of heart attack. Other side effects include diabetes and high blood pressure. "Exercise is the best thing to counteract all of these risks," says Jürgen Rockstroh, a specialist in infectious disease at the University Hospital in Bonn and chairman of the German AIDS Society. Rockstroh is currently working with scientists at the German Sport University Cologne on a study that examines how extreme training affects people infected with HIV. Initial results could be available by the end of the year.

The most famous example of HIV in professional sports is that of US basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who announced that he was infected in 1991. Johnson thought about retiring from the sport, but then he decided to continue playing basketball. In 1992, he was a member of the US basketball team that won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics.

The case of American diver Greg Louganis also made headlines. At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, Louganis hit the back of his head against the diving board in a preliminary competition and fell into the water with a bleeding head wound. He went on to win the gold medal. In an interview more than six years later, he admitted that he was already HIV positive when he had the 1988 accident. The revelation caused an uproar, and the doctor who had treated Louganis in Seoul had himself tested for HIV.

Ole Lüder, the swimmer from Berlin, is as open as possible about his disease. Many in the swimming world are familiar with his story. Lüder, for his part, is familiar with the fears of the healthy, but he doesn't allow the scaremongering to deter him, he says. Whenever he has a cut on his finger, he puts on a band-aid and jumps into the pool.

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