Open Mics With Doctor Stites 7-21-21

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Jill Chadwick

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           The University of Kansas Health System reports a slight decrease in the number of active of COVID-19 patients today. 31 patients with the active virus are being treated, down from 33 yesterday. But all of the other numbers are higher. 11 of those patients are in the ICU, up from nine yesterday. Six of those patients are on ventilators, up from five yesterday. 25 other patients are still hospitalized because of COVID-19 but are out of the acute infection phase, up from 22 yesterday. That’s a total of 56 patients, up from 55 yesterday. HaysMed has six patients today, up from five yesterday.

            Today, another episode of Open Mics With Dr. Stites. It’s a chance every Wednesday for Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, to bring us up to date on all things COVID, and dive deep into other medical topics, as well as answer media and community questions. Today’s conversation was on the 40th anniversary of AIDS, and the similarities to the current COVID-19 pandemic.                                                            

            Before getting to the main topic, Dr. Stites had this blunt assessment. “We are back in trouble again.” He says we are in a third wave of the pandemic, the hospital is full and has no room for the five to six transfer requests received every day. It’s the same all over the Metro. He says that’s creating a crisis in the region. In his words, “This has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated.” 60 percent of Missouri residents are unvaccinated as are 57 percent of Kansans. 90 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated with the rest all having chronic serious medical conditions. The panel of guests, all infectious disease physicians, believe going back to mask mandates is inevitable because of the low vaccinate rates and the rapid spread of the Delta variant. They agree the only way to stop things from getting worse is a change in behavior, both in vaccination uptake and mask wearing.

            After viewing a video timeline showing 40 years of AIDS highlights, Dr. Daniel Hinthorn, Director of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Lisa Clough with Infectious Diseases and Dr. Wissam El Atrouni with Infectious Diseases all discussed the similarities and differences between HIV and COVID-19.

Dr. Hinthorn remembers well the stigma toward AIDS patients, especially in the early days. Many hospitals refused to take them, and many doctors quit or retired rather than treat them. The death rate was nearly 100 percent. He says a vaccine for HIV has been extremely difficult to create because the virus keeps changing. At least, he says, there’s a pill those patients can take daily to give them a normal life expectancy, which is much better than heart disease, diabetes or cancer. He notes every time a pandemic comes along, whether it’s the plague of the 1500’s, Legionnaires or HIV, people respond the same. They fear it and try to run from it without thinking about it rationally. COVID-19, he says, is no different.

            Dr. Clough remembers a feeling of helplessness in the medical community in those early days of AIDS and the sorrow of watching people suffer and die without being able to help. She says we’ve made many great strides in the last 40 years, but says like with COVID-19, prevention is the key to fighting HIV. She adds we’re in a more empathetic period of care for HIV patients, and the same needs to happen for COVID-19, especially for those who refuse to be vaccinated. She feels those people need to be understood rather than villainized. She believes the COVID pandemic is going to encourage continued work and support in the HIV arena as the two diseases overlap in many ways.

Dr. El Atrouni noted that COVID-19 virus is different from the HIV virus. He says HIV integrates into your own genome and establishes a lifelong infection. COVID-19 is a coronavirus, an acute infection that resolves and when the patient recovers, there’s no more virus in the body. That’s a main reason why vaccines for HIV have so hard to create and the COVID-19 vaccine was easier. He said without vaccines, non-medical measures such as condoms helped keep HIV from spreading, similar to the way masks help keep COVID-19 from spreading. He warns we must be careful not to be judgmental of those who currently catch COVID-19, just like it was important to be non-judgmental of HIV patients. He’s currently attending a virtual worldwide conference on AIDS and says there are many sessions addressing the stigma of HIV. One of the biggest concerns at the conference is funding and resources that had been allotted to AIDS research have now been directed to COVID-19 research. The good news is there are very effective therapies for HIV today.

            Dr. Stites warns the Kansas City Metro area is at risk of being overrun by the Delta variant that’s overwhelmed Springfield and all of southwest Missouri. He remembers the lesson from the AIDS pandemic was prevention, and the same is true for the COVID pandemic. He believes we are in trouble and will have to mandate masks again. He says, “We are at a tipping point, and if we don’t take it seriously, we could easily end up back where we were in November.” He stresses it’s a simple matter to stop this pandemic, unlike with AIDS, through vaccination.


            Thursday, July 22 at 8:00 a.m. is the next Morning Medical Update. We'll be talking about something a lot of you have been asking us about, back to school vaccinations including COVID-19.

ATTENTION: media procedure for calling in:

 The meeting is available by Zoom, both video and by phone. To join the Zoom Meeting by video, click

Telephone dial-in Participants: For those without Zoom, call 1-312-626-6799, meeting ID: 782 897 8628.

The feed is also available via TVU grid. The TVU source is UoK_Health and is being made available to all.

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