Date Added: Nov. 8, 2004
The social specter that is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, has been with us for nearly three decades, but irrational fear of it and the deadly disease it causes (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS) has not subsided. Despite massive educational campaigns over the decades, urban legends describing frightening yet extremely unlikely avenues of infection still persist.
SEND THIS TO AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE. PEOPLE ARE SICK. This is something you may want to take note of: ONLY USE KETCHUP FROM THE PACKET IN FAST FOOD OUTLETS!!
A man was caught placing blood in the ketchup dispenser at a fast food outlet (to remain unnamed) within the last month. It is believed that he is HIV+.
So be sure to let your friends/family know...only use items that come in a closed packet.
AIDS is easily one of society's most feared and misunderstood diseases. It leads to fatal complications and there is no known cure at this time.
But, perhaps the most frightening thing about AIDS is the stigma associated with it. Now a threat to all people, AIDS was initially prevalent among homosexual males and spread via unprotected sex. It then became common among intravenous drug users of both genders and sexual orientations. AIDS quickly became known as a disease that affected those who engaged in socially deviant behaviors.
By extension, it is believed by many that someone who contracts HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, must have been doing something he or she shouldn't have in order to "deserve" such a terrible fate. To be an innocent person, guilty of no taboo, and yet become infected with HIV would, indeed, be embarrassing and is something to avoid at all costs.
Urban legends about insidious plots by anti-social miscreants to infect unsuspecting innocents abound. Legendry attests that, in every day settings from movie theaters to the gas station, diabolic low-lifes are hatching simple but effective plans to make us join the ranks of the infected.
The chain letter above incorporates two common themes in urban legendry: first, the above mentioned plot by the socially deviant to do harm to the morally upright; and second, the insinuation that fast food restaurants, places we turn to out of convenience (probably too often) are fertile grounds for such plots to be hatched.
Another trait of urban legendry echoed in the above is its utter lack of verifiable information. There are no dates, no places and no authorities named. In fact, it reads less like a reliable news report and more like someone's fanciful imagining of something that could happen.
Not surprisingly, I and several other debunkers have been unable to find any news accounts of such activities anywhere - and you'd think that an HIV-positive man slipping samples of his blood into the ketchup supply at the local Mickey-D's would be newsworthy, especially in this day and age of terror alerts and homeland security.
But, could it happen?
Could someone taint a ketchup dispenser at a fast food restaurant with blood? The answer is "maybe." It depends on what type of dispenser is involved. If we're talking about ketchup bottles sitting on tables, it certainly is possible.
But the chain letter above appears to be referring to the pump-type dispensers at a public condiment station. Here, it becomes less likely, though still possible, depending on what type of pumping system the restaurant uses. Some simply plunge the pump into an open can of ketchup, while others may use vacuum-packed bags or closed cans. Tainting the former would be fairly easy, while tainting the latter would be much more difficult.
Besides, beyond the "yuck" factor, there would be virtually no risk even if someone did succeed at slipping HIV-tainted blood into the ketchup supply. According to the Centers for Disease Control, HIV is spread by the direct person-to-person transmission of bodily fluids (primarily blood, semen and vaginal fluids - transmission via tears and saliva is also possible, though highly unlikely). While some cases of infection from ingestion have been confirmed by the CDC, these have been cases of direct ingestion of bodily fluids through sexual activity, not through tainted foods.
The bottom line: the virus cannot survive outside of a human host and would die quickly in a vat of ketchup.
While the scenario described in the e-mail above is certainly disgusting, it is not the sinister threat to your family's well-being that the anonymous author would have you believe. Break this chain.
References: About.com, Snopes.com, CDC (1), CDC (2)