CHICAGO -- The mysterious and deadly AIDS disease may be transmitted by routine close contact in a family household, doctors said Thursday.
Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, a breakdown in the body's ability to fight infection, begins with malaise, weight loss and enlargement of the lymph nodes, followed by severe infections or Kaposi's sarcoma, a form of skin cancer.
Dr. James Oleske and New Jersey Medical School colleagues described eight children from the Newark area born into families with recognized risks for AIDS. Four of them died.
'Our experience suggests that children living in high-risk households are susceptible to AIDS and that sexual contact, drug abuse or exposure to blood products is not necessary for disease transmissions,' they said in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Each child had in common household exposure to one or more individuals from groups with known risk factors for AIDS -- intravenous drug abusers, prostitutes, homosexuals and Haitians-Dominicans. A paternal uncle in one home was diagnosed as having AIDS.
'The present epidemic of AIDS was originally described in homosexual men and subsequently in intravenous drug abusers, Haitians and hemophiliacs,' the doctors said in the Journal.
'Recently, we and others have encountered a group of children with an otherwise unexplained immune deficiency syndrome and infections of the type found in adults with AIDS.'
The cause of AIDS remains unknown.
'Data are accumulating, however, that suggest that a transmissible agent is responsible for the immune dysfunction and that certain malignant neoplasms and opportunistic infections then develop thereafter.
'Until recently, AIDS seemed to be limited to adults, predominantly in those with aberrant lifestyles or exposure to blood products.
'It seems, however, that the epidemiology of AIDS many now have taken an ominous new turn, with otherwise 'normal' infants and children as additional victims.'
In an editorial, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said AIDS has a death rate of at least 50 percent -- possibly as high as 75 to 100 percent -- with a doubling of the number of patients afflicted every six months.
'The finding of AIDS in infants and children who are household contacts of patients with AIDS or persons with risks for AIDS has enormous implications with regard to ultimate transmissibility of this syndrome,' Fauci said.
Also in the Journal, Dr. Arye Rubinstein of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., suggested AIDS can be transmitted to fetuses in the mother's womb.
Joseph Sonnabend of Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, M.D., hypothesized AIDS occurs among certain male homosexuals because of a number of interlocking immune system events, all resulting from their lifestyle.