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Pandemic Fears: What the AIDS Battle Should Teach Us About COVID-19

By ANISH KOKA, MD

As the globe faces a novel, highly transmissible, lethal virus, I am most struck by a medicine cabinet that is embarrassingly empty for doctors in this battle.  This means much of the debate centers on mitigation of spread of the virus.  Tempers flare over discussions on travel bans, social distancing, and self quarantines, yet the inescapable fact remains that the medical community can do little more than support the varying fractions of patients who progress from mild to severe and life threatening disease.  This isn’t meant to minimize the massive efforts brought to bear to keep patients alive by health care workers but those massive efforts to support failing organs in the severely ill are in large part because we lack any effective therapy to combat the virus.  It is akin to taking care of patients with bacterial infections in an era before antibiotics, or HIV/AIDS in an era before anti-retroviral therapy.  

It should be a familiar feeling for at least one of the leading physicians charged with managing the current crisis – Dr. Anthony Fauci.  Dr. Fauci started as an immunologist at the NIH in the 1960s and quickly made breakthroughs in previously fatal diseases marked by an overactive immune response.  Strange reports of a new disease that was sweeping through the gay community in the early 1980’s caused him to shift focus to join the great battle against the AIDS epidemic. 

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