Enough to make your blood curdle

  • Melissa Meyer - 23 April 2013

A bizarre report in “the people’s paper” suggests that men masquerading as doctors may have stolen blood from an HIV-positive woman to infect others with the virus.

The whole thing smells rather fishy. Three men, dressed as doctors and with what looked like a patient file, turned up at Flora’s house. They then tied her down and drained three bottles (of unknown size) of her blood. Flora woke up in hospital, confused.

And so too would the readers of the Daily Sun be by the strange story about Flora’s blood thieves. Except that just before the end, the article offers a possible explanation for the draining of Flora. And no (perhaps surprisingly for the Daily Sun), they are not vampires. Flora is HIV-positive.

So it is possible that the men have taken her blood to infect others. This is how Flora chooses to make sense of her strange encounter.

It may be the closest to a reasonable explanation, but this reasoning can also easily incite fear and perpetuate misunderstandings.

Whilst one can acquire HIV from a needle (like a needle stick injury or sharing needles for injecting drugs), the risk of contracting the virus from unprotected sex still by far outweighs the threat of being infected maliciously with contaminated blood.

Moreover, given that these men were clearly not doctors, it is likely they did not take adequate precautions when working with Flora’s blood and were thus themselves exposed to the virus.

What the story does not consider are previous reports on cases of murder or theft of human tissue for use in traditional potions (or muti).

As the men are yet to be apprehended, we (like Flora) can only guess at their real motive. And perhaps that should have been made clearer in the article: Why this happened is simply unknown.

To its credit, the Daily Sun did not explicitly say that the HIV motive holds true. Flora is simply quoted as suspecting it to be so. But here some additional information to allay readers’ fears and set things straight would have been useful. 

Whilst newspapers tend to be in the business of giving us answers, there are cases where some deviation from the formula is necessary. This is particularly true where stories are bizarre and nonsensical by their nature and simply have no clear “why” factor.

It is at this point that speculation should be avoided or at least sufficiently contextualised as someone’s opinion. Not doing so would run counter to the news media’s commitment to bringing us only the truth, not plausible hypotheticals. We are all good enough at gossip to come up with those ourselves.

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“some additional information to allay readers’ fears and set things straight would have been useful”