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Map Charting Spread of AIDS Worries Image-Conscious Towns

September 23, 1991

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ A poster mapping out the spread of AIDS from Boston to Massachusetts’ hinterland worries some image-conscious state officials.

The poster, developed at the University of Massachusetts, shows that AIDS has touched more than a quarter of the state’s 351 cities and towns.

University cartographer Roy Doyon, who based the poster on information from the state Department of Public Health, plans to print 1,000 copies with $500 from a private college foundation.

Officials at the Massachusetts AIDS Surveillance Program told him they have no money to help, so he plans to deliver it himself to teachers and state lawmakers.

Kathleen Gallagher, state program supervisor, wrote to Doyon that his poster could ″actually be misinterpreted, causing people to stereotype certain cities and towns.″

Gallagher later referred questions to Kate McCormack of the state Department of Public Health. McCormack said, ″Putting a map up ... in various schools requires an explanation of what the maps means. That requires further resources.″

Doyon believes the maps will help convince people that AIDS has moved beyond big cities and can strike anyone, not just drug users and homosexuals.

Denise McWilliams, director of the AIDS law project of the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates, agrees.

″I think people feel that HIV is an illness that somehow is locked in a ghetto someplace - either a gay ghetto or drug-using ghetto or an urban ghetto,″ she said.

Massachusetts has 4,063 recorded cases in a population of 5.7 million. At least 27,000 people have contracted the HIV virus that causes AIDS. State officials expect about 36,000 reported cases by 1994.

The maps, begun in December, trace the disease’s progression across the state since 1985.

Only 11 communities reported five or more cases in 1985, compared to 83 as of February. Towns with fewer than five cases were not included in the health department records.

The maps show AIDS moving westward from Boston along major transportation routes, and concentrated along the north-south Interstate 91 corridor that links Springfield, Mass., to Hartford, Conn.

″Epidemics traditionally spread along transportation routes,″ Doyon said in an interview at the cartography laboratory he manages on the Amherst campus.

″Conventioneers, truck drivers, travelers are the link with the cities,″ Doyon said.

AIDS, which destroys the body’s immune system, can be transmitted during sex and through contaminated needles and tainted blood transfusions.

The maps show AIDS cases scattered all the way to Pittsfield, 140 miles west of Boston. Even the small western Massachusetts community of Greenfield, population 14,000, has five reported cases.

Town Manager Norman Thidemann said Greenfield has a hospital that serves the entire county, and he believes that fact should be included on the poster.

″Other than that, I don’t think we would find it offensive or inflammatory,″ he said.

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