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.”