After five years of conducting HIV/AIDS education programs, I was discouraged by the article "Patients to Receive AIDS Alert" {Metro, Dec. 3}. After all this time, the article still used the erroneous term "AIDS test" and discussed "transmission of AIDS," which is equally inaccurate.

As long as the media use the term "AIDS test," then those individuals who test positive on the HIV antibody test will tragically believe that they have AIDS. And as long as stories contain inaccurate concepts such as "transmitting AIDS," it will be difficult to educate people about the important distinctions between HIV (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which damages the immune system and often results in AIDS) and AIDS (the end stage of HIV infection, which usually takes years to develop).

We have no "AIDS test." The test your article referred to is an HIV antibody test, which determines if an individual has been infected by HIV. A positive HIV antibody test is neither an indication that one has AIDS nor that one will develop AIDS. As for the second point, AIDS is a syndrome -- a collection of diseases that occur when one's immune system has been ravaged by HIV. AIDS is never transmitted; HIV is transmitted.

My points are not simply semantic or minor technicalities. These distinctions can help determine whether HIV-infected individuals understand their situation and make positive changes to fight the virus or simply give up under the mistaken assumption that they have received a "death sentence."

I feel certain that your paper uses the term "AIDS test" and other shortcut terms partly because other media sources do the same. I also understand that the correct terminology can seem lengthy and cumbersome. But such shortcuts are having a significant and damaging impact on our ability to effectively address the epidemic of HIV disease. My staff and I would be happy to discuss with your writers and editors ways in which our clients and your general readership might be better served by articles dealing with HIV/AIDS.

-- Rebecca M. Young

The writer is site coordinator of the Education and Risk Assessment Project.