All but unknown a few years ago, the dread disease of AIDS has struck down thousands and terrified millions. The illness destroys its victim’s immune system, so placing him under a sure sentence of death with the present state of medical knowledge. What is perhaps worse, no prospect of cure lies in view.

In the United States and Europe, though not in Africa, AIDS has mainly affected homosexuals and drug addicts using unsanitary needles. Cases of AIDS have been found in others; but one question stands uppermost in the minds of those in neither of the “high-risk” groups just mentioned. Does heterosexual activity hazard a substantial danger of exposure to the AIDS virus?

Many experts have been inclined to venture a cautious “no” in response, urging the desirability of “safe” sex as a precautionary measure. The authors differ sharply with this opinion. In their view, AIDS has already spread widely among promiscuous heterosexuals--in the current euphemism, the “sexually active.” The authors claim that current reports of AIDS cases have been underestimated and predict a drastic increase in the number of afflicted heterosexuals within the next few years.

The authors’ differences from other researchers stem from their reliance on their own large-scale study. They compared four hundred monogamous subjects with four hundred subjects who had not similarly confined themselves.

The results were ominous: Members of the latter group, depending on their number of partners, displayed a rate of infection on the order of 4 to 7 percent. It is, however, not clear whether the authors have accepted at face value their subjects’ responses to the questionnaires about their sexual activity.

Faced with such distressing news, the authors support a wide range of preventive measures. These include compulsory AIDS testing for an assortment of groups and a crackdown on bathhouses and prostitutes. The restrictions of civil liberties these measures entail receive but a passing mention.

Whether these findings are confirmed by future studies, the authors have at any rate succeeded in presenting a new perspective on an issue of the most pressing concern.