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(VIDEO) Dr. Fauci on 40 Years of HIV and AIDS

Given Fauci’s long career, and his most recent success in helping to lead the COVID response, I asked him what’s been his most consequential responsibility? “Oh, that’s easy. I’ve been working for 40 years this June on HIV and AIDS, so there’s nothing that comes close in my own life to HIV.”

On June 5, 1981, Fauci was sitting at his desk at the National Institutes of Health offices in Maryland, when news of a strange disease crossed his desk in the form of a memo.  Fauci said, “I have a very, very good recollection of that day. That day caused an awareness in me that had me make a dramatic change in my career and in my life. I was in my office in the clinical center when the MMWR (the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for epidemiologists, published by the Centers for Disease Control) landed on my desk, and I saw the description of five young gay men in Los Angeles who presented with pneumocystis pneumonia. I had only seen this type of pneumonia in cancer patients who were being treated with chemotherapy, so that was odd. And I wondered why they were all gay men? I thought it was a fluke of some sort, so I put the MMWR aside.” Fauci said at that point in his career he had several years of experience in the field of infectious disease at the NIH, but he never heard anything like what he was reading about in the MMWRs. He knew that it had to be a new disease, and since it was all gay men, he first assumed that it was a sexually transmitted disease. The next altering occurrence was the development of a simple diagnostic test, and this happened in 1985. Fauci said that once testing started on a broad scale, doctors and health care professionals were seeing, “…many, many, many more people who were infected and who didn’t know it because their immune system hadn’t been destroyed enough to get the opportunistic diseases associated with HIV/AIDS.” In 1986, according to Fauci, the development of AZT and targeted antiviral therapies like protease inhibitors began to slowly turn things around. Given Fauci’s long career, and his most recent success in helping to lead the COVID response, I asked him what’s been his most consequential responsibility? “Oh, that’s easy. I’ve been working for 40 years this June on HIV and AIDS, so there’s nothing that comes close in my own life to HIV.”

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