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The Harold Varmus Papers

Letter from H. Hunter Handsfield, Harborview Medical Center to Harold Varmus pdf (67,588 Bytes) transcript of pdf
Letter from H. Hunter Handsfield, Harborview Medical Center to Harold Varmus
Number of Image Pages:
1 (67,588 Bytes)
1985-08-20 (August 20, 1985)
Handsfield, H. Hunter
Harborview Medical Center
Varmus, Harold
Original Repository: University of California, San Francisco. Archives and Special Collections. Harold E. Varmus Papers
Reproduced with permission of H. Hunter Handsfield.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Terminology as Topic
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
Exhibit Category:
AIDS and HIV: Science, Politics, and Controversy, 1981-1993
Box Number: 2
Folder Number: 14
Unique Identifier:
Document Type:
Letters (correspondence)
Physical Condition:
Series: UCSF Collections
SubSeries: Collection Number MSS 88-47
SubSubSeries: Human Retrovirus Study Group, 1981-1987
Folder: HIV clinical opinions on the naming of the virus, 1985
August 20, 1985
Dear Dr. Varmus,
Thank you for your letter of August 12 concerning AIDS virus nomenclature.
In my opinion, the agent will be referred to colloquially as the "AIDS virus" for at least the next couple of decades, regardless of its official name. I envision the following conversation occurring repeatedly: MD: "Your blood test shows infection with XYZ virus." Patient: "What does it do?" MD: "It causes several problems, although most persons remain well. But one thing it can do is cause AIDS." Patient: "Oh, shit." The remainder of the conversation focuses on AIDS and the fears surrounding that disease.
I feel that the official name should disassociate this virus from the HTLV series, to which it is only remotely related. Despite its historical priority, "Lymphadenopathy associated virus" is essentially inaccurate, since lymphadenopathy is a relatively small part of the spectrum of AIDS. Of the current terms in use, I have cow to favor Jay Levy's "AIDS-associated retrovirus."
In summary, I see no compelling reason to eliminate AIDS from the official name, since it will be associated forever with that disease regardless of its name. Accordingly, why not follow the historical precedent of naming retro-viruses for the diseases with which they are prominently associated?
Finally, a personal note: I would not expect you to recall that I was a third year clerk on Medicine at P&S while you were either an intern or first year resident (I think intern; it was the Summer of 1966.) Nice to hear from you.
H. Hunter Handsfield, MD
Director, STD Control Program
Associate Professor of Medicine
University of Washington
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