Ahead of New Bedford's observation of World AIDS Day on Thursday, December 12, let's take a look back at how AIDS was covered – or not covered – in the 1980s.

The epidemic actually started 10 years before the New York Times headline in July 1981 that shouted, "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals." It was the first public mention of AIDS, with that name yet to come into use.

It was also the start of misinformation, fear and mass hysteria. Questions abounded: My uncle has AIDS, is it safe to kiss him on the cheek? What about using the same forks, spoons and drinking glasses? A British AIDS victim who died of the disease was entombed in concrete at a cemetery as a precaution in case they were ever to open the coffin again.

Tom Goodgame, a former station manager for Boston's WBZ-TV, summed it up in toto: "The problem with AIDS is really two epidemics – the real health epidemic and the epidemic of the mind."

Thankfully, although the disease itself persists today in a less lethal form, the hysteria has largely been eradicated.

Activists in the 1983 New York City Gay Pride March held a banner that read: "A.I.D.S.: We Need Research Not HYSTERIA." That's one of the reasons we've blotted out the decades of misinformation, hysterics, and mania.

Another reason for weeding out hysteria is this year's theme, "Communities Make the Difference." It's an important opportunity to recognize the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response locally and nationally.

On December 12, Maria Alves, Program Manager for Prevention and Screening at Seven Hills Services, is coordinating a short program on the steps of City Hall at 5:30 p.m. and then a candlelight walk to Pilgrim United Church for a touching service followed by refreshments. Join us if you can.

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at phil@wbsm.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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