Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

What is casual contact?

February 6, 2013

Q.I don’t understand what casual contact is. In school, my health teacher said that AIDS isn’t spread by casual contact, but nobody explained what that is.

– 13-year-old male

Mary Jo’s response: An outstanding question that reminds me to never assume someone knows what I’m teaching. I use this poem, “Knots,” by R.D. Laing when I do professional trainings. It keeps me focused on the need to articulate the obvious when teaching – which simply means that a teacher needs to share information clearly:

There is something I don’t know that I am supposed to know.

I don’t know what it is that I don’t know and yet am supposed to know, and I feel I look stupid if I seem both not to know it and not know what it is I don’t know.

Therefore I pretend I know it.

This is nerve-racking since I don’t know what I must pretend to know.

Therefore I pretend to know everything.

I feel you know what I am supposed to know but you can’t tell me what it is because you don’t know that I don’t know it.

You may know what I don’t know, but not that I don’t know it, and I can’t tell you.

So you will have to tell me everything.

Casual contact means that people connect with one another but there is no chance for body fluids to go from one person to another – no sexual contact, no needle-sharing, no breastfeeding, no blood or fluid exchange. Let’s be clear about some myths:

Research has shown that HIV is NOT spread by:

• Breathing the same air as someone who is HIV-positive

• A mosquito bite

• Touching a toilet seat or doorknob handle after an HIV-positive person

• Drinking from a water fountain

• Hugging, kissing or shaking hands with someone who is HIV-positive

• Sharing eating utensils with an HIV-positive person

• Using exercise equipment at a gym

It is true that HIV can be spread through blood, semen, vaginal fluid or breast milk.

I hope that helps make the idea of casual contact clear. If you have more questions or just want to talk, I’m at 412-877-4906.

Youth Champions: Who said February is a boring month? Our peer educators are busy planning two important February events:

One Billion Rising: The public is invited to our “rising” from 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at our Common Ground Teen Center (53 N. College St., Washington). One Billion Rising is an international call to action ( One in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. One billion women violated is an atrocity. One billion women dancing is a revolution. Men and women are invited to join our young people as they enjoy solidarity in dance and participate in an educational hour to focus on our common humanity. Violence does not need to be the status quo.

Black History Month Essay Contest: Any Washington County teen (14-18) may enter this contest honoring Black History Month. Essays must be between 300 and 500 words. The topic is any African-American, living or dead, who contributed to making our community stronger and better. Essays may focus on a local individual or a national figure. Completed essays must be sent by email only to and must include the name, address, phone number and email address of the essayist. Entries must be received no later than midnight on Feb. 22. The winner will be announced at our Black History Day program on from 5 to 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Common Ground Teen Center. A $100 Amazon gift card will be awarded to the best essay.

Stay warm!



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