Hopkins joins NBA AIDS team Medical school here to educate players

December 19, 1991|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,Sun Staff Correspondent Alan Goldstein of The Sun sports staff contributed to this article.

NEW YORK -- In the days after Magic Johnson's Nov. 7 announcement that he carries the AIDS virus, his peers in pro basketball began to wonder whether they were at risk, whether they should get tested and how one contracts the disease.

"The questions asked of me generally suggested that we needed to be better informed," said Charles Grantham, executive director of the NBA Players Association.

Yesterday, the association announced it has hired the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health to educate players about the dangers of AIDS and how to prevent it.

In a plan forged within days of Johnson's retirement, the school will distribute written information about AIDS to NBA teams within the next week or two and then begin a locker room tour of all 27 teams in which experts will discuss the disease.

The Hopkins team will have met with every team by the All-Star Game on Feb. 9, according to the plan. Players also will be offered private counseling and testing if they want it -- or referrals to specialists in their communities.

Johnson's statements that he led a promiscuous lifestyle -- and that he must have caught the virus from one of the many women he slept with over the years -- has fueled much discussion about the possible risks faced by other NBA players.

But Grantham said the media have created the erroneous perception that most players are promiscuous. He said the players are a "microcosm of society," no more or less at risk than the general population,where infections occur in approximately one out of every 1,000 people.

"What athletes do may vary, but I think we've been led to believe that they are three times, four times, five times more active than ++ the normal population, and I don't know that there are any facts or any evidence that suggests that is true," Grantham said at a press briefing.

Grantham was joined yesterday by four Hopkins scientists taking part in the campaign. The union will pay the school an undisclosed amount that simply will cover costs, according to a Hopkins official.

Dr. Alfred J. Saah, chief of infectious disease epidemiology at the school, said there is no scientific basis to speculation that athletes could contract the virus from blood spilled by other players in a game.

"The risk on the basketball court is not measurable," said Saah. He said he based that conclusion on studies of thousands of health-care workers who are exposed frequently to spilled blood, saliva and sputum.

On-the-job transmission occurred only when workers accidentally stuck themselves with hypodermic needles that had been used on infected patients. Needles can deliver the virus to tissues beneath the skin, while spilled blood tends to wash off or remain on the skin.

Grantham said the union was opposed to mandatory testing. While the Hopkins doctors said they will educate the players about the benefits of testing, they simply will encourage the players to make "responsible decisions."

John Nash, Washington Bullets general manager, said: "I see both sides of the issue. I'd prefer to have the tests done, but I also recognize the rights of individuals to privacy."

The NBA issued a statement in support of the plan, but Grantham said the initiative came strictly from the union.

"You always have a perception that, in spite of the fact we have a cooperative relationship, most times management is the godfather looking over the players," Grantham said.

Players' feelings toward testing remain ambivalent.

Bullets center Pervis Ellison said last week: "People look at us as role models and believe that is a good enough reason for us to be tested. But why should we be treated differently than ordinary people? It's a very difficult situation."

The New York Knicks' Kiki Vandeweghe said: "It's a tough thing to demand everyone to do, but it's something in today's society we all should do, whether you're a professional athlete or office worker."

The team meetings will be led by Saah and Dr. Michael P. Johnson, an infectious disease expert and AIDS educator.

Hopkins also will maintain an 800 number that players can call for information. Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean of the school of public health, said Hopkins will offer HIV tests, medical services and private counseling. But it is more likely that the school would help the athletes find those services closer to home.

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