Biography of HIV Researcher Harold Jaffe

U.S Scientist Credited with Earliest AIDS Leadership Role

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Dr. Harold Jaffe is a noted American scientist, credited with being among those in the frontline during the first days of the AIDS epidemic.

Dr. Jaffe received his undergraduate degree in genetics from the University of California, Berkeley, and his medical degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. After having trained in infectious diseases at the University of Chicago hospitals, he was appointed Epidemic Intelligence Officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (now known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC).

In 1981, Dr. Jaffe joined a CDC task force investigating a mysterious, new disease affecting gay men in New York City and Southern California. The as-yet-unnamed illness was among the greatest medical mysteries of the 20th century, causing a spectrum of rarely seen infections which were almost exclusively associated with severe immune suppression.

It was during this time that Dr. Jaffe and his cohorts christened the disease AIDS. (Earliest suggestions included "community-acquired immune disorder, as well "4H disease" in reference to the homosexuals, hemophiliacs, heroin users and Haitian being afflicted with the disorder.)

Among his contributions, Dr. Jaffe led the first national case-control study to determine risk factors for the disease and the first natural history study of HIV pathogenesis.

Dr. Jaffe's early investigations with the CDC were chronicle in the novel And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts, while Jaffe himself was portrayed by the actor Charles Martin Smith in the HBO TV movie of the same name.

Appointments and Accomplishments

Jaffe served as Director of the Division of AIDS, STD, and TB Laboratory Research, and as Associate Director for HIV/AIDS in the National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID). From 1992-1995, Dr. Jaffe served as the Director of NCID's Division of HIV/AIDS, and prior to that he served as the Division's Deputy Director for Science.

In 2001, Dr. Jaffe was asked to replace a departing Helene Gayle and be named Head of CDC HIV Division.

Dr. Jaffe has authored or co-authored more than125 publications, many relating to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. His journal publications range from early studies on transfusion-associated HIV infection to variable risk factors seen in men who have sex with men (MSM).

In June 2010, Dr. Jaffe returned to CDC as its Associate Director of Science. Among his associations, he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of The National Academies, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), and has been a Fellow of the UK Faculty of Public Health.

Noteworthy Quotations

On public health messages:

"I don't think exaggerating risks really gets you very far. I mean, people know what the risks are, and if you say it's worse than it is, they won't believe you."

On abstinence-based education:

"There's certainly very little, if any, evidence that abstinence-based education decreases the risk of HIV, or any other STD, for young people. I believe it largely reflects a religious conservative agenda."

On normalizing HIV in the public consciousness:

"A lot of policies regarding AIDS testing were first developed 15 years ago, when there was tremendous concern about privacy issues and stigmatization surrounding positive results. These are still legitimate issues, but at this time we feel that it's not necessary to go through extensive pretest counseling. We feel that time and money spent on pretest counseling can in most cases be better spent elsewhere."

On the argument of HIV and personal responsibility:

"I think the downside of focusing too much on HIV-infected persons is the issue of blame, to say what's your fault.. But I think the personal responsibility message makes a lot of sense. All HIV infections start with a transmission from an infected person to an uninfected person. There are a lot fewer infected people than uninfected people. So I think it does make sense, as long as you avoid the blaming-the-victim kind of mentality."

On the failure of the U.S. to reverse the HIV infection rate:

"I think the point is that the epidemic is not over by a long shot in this country... It isn't OK for more than 40,000 people to develop a life-threatening disease every year. Why is it OK for 17,000 people to die from it? It isn't OK."

Sources:

Helfand, M. "Interview with Harold Jaffe, M.D." TheBody; XIV Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI); February 27, 2007.

Barclay, L. "CDC Initiative for HIV Prevention: A Newsmaker Interview With Harold W. Jaffe, MD." Medscape Medical News; April 22, 2003

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