Week 5 HIV – Exploding Dinosaurs in the Context of Serious Diseases

10 Oct 2016

Sarah Bannerman, DTMH September 2016

As any fan (doctor or otherwise) of the questionably realistic medical drama House would know, the answer is always lupus. In reality (or at least what we have been learning this past week), it is more accurately HIV**. Week five of the DTMH found us tackling the many aspects of HIV, from the basic structure of the virus the complex immunology of how the virus sabotages the human immune system and develops resistance to the fantastic treatments out there.

The treatments are represented by abbreviations and acronyms that might be likened to archaic symbols, a whole new language to learn for most (the difference here is that these are at risk of being forgotten in the near future).

Immunology has always been a specific area of weakness in my medical learning and so it was with much trepidation that I approached the topic. I needn’t have worried as it was presented in an approachable and logical way by a variety of passionate lecturers.

HIV as a public health issue is fascinating, as it is a disease that is relatively new (being only described in the past ~60 years) and has gone through the stages of being an unknown mysterious killer and a sweeping global epidemic to being treatable, giving people back their lives. The stigma remains but if treated properly a person who is HIV positive can expect a normal lifespan. This can only be achieved with strict compliance and the fair and easy access to drugs, and therefore public health comes into perspective yet again.

News has emerged from the tabloids this week of a second patient in the world that has apparently been cured of HIV. If they can just hurry along with the solution, our exams will be a damn sight easier. (Can’t take credit for this idea, so thanks Max).

Interjected among this was the most entertaining series of lectures about STIs I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Our lecturer clearly relished her work and her enthusiasm was infectious (pun intended). None of us will ever forget how to treat syphilis, the diplodocus of the STI world, with penicillin (the antibiotic being so effective that it causes the offending bacteria to explode). By the end of the lecture we were all cheering for chancres and were much more familiar with the full gamut of venereal diseases (in the safe way… at least as much as any of us will admit).

The week ended with some splendid and wildly creative group performances as we addressed issues relating to post exposure prevention, WHO HIV staging, reduction of maternal to child transmission and approaches to co-infection in the setting of HIV.

Turning our attention to the now well established social events of the week: football continues, touch rugby had a successful second week and I’m beginning to wonder if there are any walls left unclimbed in Liverpool. We moved up in the world of competitive pastimes, swapping our bingo cards for golf clubs and skipped straight to the 19th hole for a character-building round of pub golf, exploring the many establishments on the prosperous/upmarket/classy Lark Lane.

Many in the group ventured to the cinemas to experience some international culture in the form of the New Zealand movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A fantastic film by all accounts, it was also a chance to convince our UK friends and colleagues that there is indeed a difference between the Aussie and Kiwi accents.


**I may be over generalising here when the answer may more commonly be TB (given an estimated 2 billion people have the disease) BUT given that if someone tests positive for TB the next step is to test for HIV (and vice versa). I’m taking advantage of artistic license inherent to blog writing.