Back when my research was fully focused on E. coli and urinary tract infections, I always used to get one of three responses from people:
1) People would move away from me as if I could give them a UTI (more so than usual, anyway).
2) They would be glad someone is working on this, and change the subject (which I was happy to do).
3) They would begin describing symptoms to me.
I wasn’t fond of the last option (why would you tell someone you just met about vaginal discharge?). So I had to laugh when ERV, who studies HIV, described a common exchange with the public:
Person– Where did HIV-1 come from?
Me– HIV-1 is related to a virus we can find in African primates, SIV. SIV crossed over from chimpanzees to the human population to make ‘HIV’ sometime in the late 1800s, early 1900s. This event happened at least three times, giving us the three groups of HIV-1, Groups M, N, and O, however it most likely has occurred numerous times over the course of human evolution, it just never lead to a pandemic like what we have with HIV-1 today. You can go get blood samples from African hunters right now and find viruses not found in any other human.
Person– *makes a face* From eating monkeys? It wasnt from (whispers) having sex with monkeys?
Me– I seriously doubt it. People in other parts of the world hunt and eat monkeys the same way we hunt and eat deer. Technically, I would actually bet it would be easier to have sex with an unwilling deer than an unwilling chimpanzee. Opposable thumbs and like twice the strength of a human and such.