From AIDS to Zika: Dr. Fauci has served six presidents. Great keynote address.


National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci has served six presidents over the course of his 33 years in that position.

Not only is his tenure staggering, but so is its framework: He has been our country’s infectious diseases chief from the first day of HIV.

Getting to hear Fauci speak to thousands of doctors Thursday during the opening ceremony and keynote address of the American College of Physicians Internal Medicine meeting was incredible. More than 800 doctors alone are attending this conference from foreign countries, not to mention the hundreds, even thousands of doctors from around the U.S. who are here, most internal medicine specialists. The grand ballroom literally was packed elbow to elbow, seat to seat, people standing, lining the walls.

Fauci is an amazing speaker. He has a way of getting straight to the point and often offers little tips. Tomorrow, he said, an announcement will be coming out of Washington regarding phase II trials for a Zika vaccine. So maybe I just broke that news, right here!

Thus, the title of his address this morning was, “From AIDS to Zika.”

“Extraordinary parts in your life that you never forget,” is how he remembers the first reports of AIDS trickling in, long before we even had a name for the disease. “I was sitting in my office at the NIH clinical center and this came in front of my desk, this report, the MMRW (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reporting five gay men from Los Angeles with the strange situation of being otherwise healthy, also strange, curiously all gay men, with (pneumonia).

“I thought this was just a fluke, didn’t make much sense. A month later, when the second MMWR came about, now 26 men, not only from L.A., but from San Francisco, New York, and not just with (pneumonia), but also Kaposi’s sarcoma and other opportunistic infections.”

Little did Fauci know that he had come into one of the most powerful medical positions in the world just at a time when the world needed him. “And it was at that point that I really turned around the entire direction of my career and start to study this extraordinary disease,” Fauci said. “Not every outbreak was (or is) going to have global importance. This is one that was not perceived (as such) at the time, but actually did.”

Zika a new threat as mosquito transmitted or sexual transmissions multiply

Fauci admitted that Zika is now being transmitted in ways other than anyone who ever had traveled to a place where Zika previously had been present. He said “a perfect storm of global health mishaps occurred” to create the Zika crisis. He said details of a phase II Zika vaccine will come out of Washington tomorrow. He said development of the vaccine is an urgent matter.

“There’s basically not health care system in those countries and a distrust of authority,” Fauci said of Liberia, Sierre Leone, and New Guinea, where most of the 28,000 cases of Zika and 11,000 deaths have occurred.

“There are more doctors on K Street (in Washington D.C.) than in the entire country of Liberia,” Fauci said. “Now that is very difficult to swallow, but it is actually the truth.”

BREAKING: Mass. insurers must pay to fix HIV medication disfigurement

Red RibbonIt’s finally law in Massachusetts: Insurers must cover the cost of surgeries to fix the disfiguring side effects of HIV medications, a condition which affects thousands of long-term survivors.

Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday signed the legislation, which undoubtedly will transform the lives of those who have paid a painful price for staying alive. Beyond the hit to the pocketbooks that HIV medications cause, many older-line medications have caused HIV-associated lipodystrophy syndrome.

The condition causes enormous fat deposits in certain parts of the body, often the belly or the back, creating a condition that has come to be known as “HIV humpback.” But it also can cause fat loss in the face and the limbs, creating a look of emaciation.

I first wrote about the condition and the efforts of then-Massachusetts Legislator Carl Sciortino in a story more than two years ago for Imstilljosh.

In an exclusive interview for HIV Equal last year, I spoke with Sciortino about why he left the legislature to become executive director for AIDS Action Committee.

You can read the details of the new law in this piece on I will be chatting with Sciortino soon and will post a follow-up on my blog.

“Some of our longest-term survivors of the HIV epidemic have been suffering profoundly, silently and invisibly because of medications,” said Ben Klein, senior attorney and AIDS law project director at GLAD, in a statement to Masslive.

More than 100 doctors supported the bill. They stressed that the surgery to fix it is not cosmetic, and that the condition causes physical problems such as pain, poor posture, and insomnia.

“Treatment of lipodystrophy is basic medical care; it is not cosmetic,” the doctors wrote. “It is also sound health policy. It is costlier to address the harm of lipodystrophy (e.g. pain medications, physical therapy, psychotherapy) than it is to treat the underlying disease.”

Check back to often, as I will post my interview with Carl Sciortino as soon as he is available. Continue to expect more news related to long-term survivors of HIV, as well as cure and vaccine news, from my brand new website in the days ahead. Follow me on Facebook at David Heitz Health and Twitter (@DavidHeitz).