Sunday Forum

Sunday, November 15, 2009. 10:10 AM

Emerging Infectious Diseases: A Perpetual Threat

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Anthony Fauci

The Sunday Forum: Critical Issues in the Light of Faith
The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, host
 

Cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III and Dr. Anthony Fauci discuss the physical, emotional, and spiritual ramifications of disease in a time of heightened public concern.

Fauci explains why the H1N1 vaccine has been less available than expected or hoped. Although the vaccine was prepared through techniques used safely for decades, the virus grew very slowly; vaccine manufacturers found no way to speed that growth.

Humans are sometimes infected by diseases carried by animals, and the H1N1 virus itself does appear to have moved from pigs to humans sometime in 2009. Unlike many infectious diseases, H1N1 both moved into the human population and then spread very rapidly among people. H1N1 is not particularly lethal, but its rapid worldwide spread, and effect on young people, have raised alarms.

Fauci has been involved with the public response to AIDS since 1981, before the disease was even identified. At that point in his career, he had been accustomed to treating patients successfully. That changed when AIDS cases began to turn up. “For the first eight or nine or ten years of my taking care of [AIDS] patients, they all died,” he recalls, calling this time “the dark years.” During this period, gay activist groups demonstrated nationwide and specifically targeted Fauci. He surprised activists by listening to them and building relationships with constituency groups affected by the virus.

Despite medical progress, Fauci calls AIDS a “global catastrophe,” with 2.7 million new infections and 2 million deaths worldwide each year. In the United States alone, more than 56,000 new infections occur annually. The infection’s demography in this country has changed, as it has moved from the gay population to African Americans, specifically women. The District of Columbia has shockingly high rates of infection.

Drugs are helping to extend patients’ lives, but patients must take drugs daily for the rest of their lives. Newly infected patients outnumber those who receive treatment. Not everyone will receive treatment, and an actual cure is years from being devised. Because of these realities, Fauci advocates global prevention of AIDS.

About Anthony Fauci

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health. He is also chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Immunoregulation, where he has made numerous important discoveries related to HIV/AIDS. A member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Fauci has received numerous awards for his scientific accomplishments, including the National Medal of Science, the Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and 34 honorary doctoral degrees. He is the author, coauthor, or editor of more than 1,100 scientific publications, including several major textbooks.

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