MEDICINE@BROWN: This is not our first pandemic

“They’re dying now, but we are going to do something about this,” Charles Carpenter said about his  patients at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. The Center for AIDS Research made his vision a reality.

On a distant continent, a virus from an animal infects a human, then most of a city. The virus continues to spread quickly, including to the West Coast of the United States. The disease it causes claims tens, hundreds, thousands of lives on almost every continent. The US president is slow to react. Anthony Fauci, MD, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will soon step up to help oversee the nation’s medical response to what has become a terrifying public health crisis.

No, it’s not January 2020, and the virus is not severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. It’s 1982, and the CDC has just published the new term “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome,” which is caused by the recently discovered human immunodeficiency virus.

Forty years after the emergence of AIDS, and despite significant strides toward understanding and treating the disease, scientists have yet to find a cure. Since it emerged, HIV has infected 78 million people, and AIDS-related illnesses have killed 35 million worldwide.

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