Office of NIH History
In Their Own Words: NIH Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS
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Harden: Was there any fallout for your sons because their mother was working on AIDS?

Baird: No, not necessarily, because they did not tell their friends. Of course, if I had left literature lying around, there could have been a problem. Their friends were pretty close-minded, and if they had told them, I think it would have had been broadcast around the whole school. But I was essentially told by my sons to keep my mouth shut and keep a low profile. They knew that their friends would not understand.

About six years ago, when I moved into my house, a neighbor came up and talked to me. She said, “Welcome to the neighborhood,” and that sort of thing and asked what I did. I said “I'm a nurse. I work at NIH.” “Oh, what kind of work you do?” “I work with AIDS research.” I thought she was going to kick me out of the neighborhood. She said, “If you do, I am surprised you even tell anybody about it.” About the same time, or maybe shortly before that, my dentist and my doctor wrote on my chart “Works with AIDS patients.”

Harden: Did they make sure they wore gloves and a mask before they examined you?

Baird: It was like I wore a big letter “A.” My doctor and my dentist wanted to make sure that, if I was going to pick up AIDS at work and if I was foolish enough to work with these patients, then just because they were giving me care they were not going to be exposed. They were very careful.

Harden: I presume that you participate in the ongoing NIH study to monitor the health care personnel.

Baird: Yes. I have actually been stuck three times with AIDS needles. The first one was with the first patient, and that was terrifying because I did not know yet what the cause of AIDS was. I was cutting a needle and my hands slipped. The needle just drew a little bit of blood. I gathered my thoughts and saw that the patient was okay. Then I went out into the hallway and I saw the patient's doctor. With tears running from my eyes, I said, “I do not know what I have done to myself, but I think I am scared.” He was very helpful and understanding. That is the nice thing about this place: there is a lot of caring.

I went to employee health and they did not know what to do. But they did know that this patient was hepatitis positive, so they knew they had to protect me against the hepatitis. They did not know how they were going to protect me against the unknown disease the patient had. We did not know what he had. This was the very first patient. The nurse at employee health said “I will give you some immunoglobulin and say some prayers for you.”

Harden: You did not get hepatitis? That is good because it is much more infectious than AIDS.

Baird: I got a sub clinical case of hepatitis, so the immunoglobulin did protect me. My liver enzymes were followed, and they did elevate. As you said, we now know that hepatitis is much more infectious than AIDS, and I was used as the index case to show that hepatitis is more infectious than AIDS. This was a couple of years later. They were able to go back and say, “She accidentally got stuck with a needle. We gave her immunoglobulin. She got sub clinical hepatitis but her HIV status is still negative.”

Harden: You were fortunate. Because it was so early in the epidemic, I presume that they had not started drawing blood routinely at that time from health care personnel.

Baird: Right, the official study had not begun, but we did have an unofficial one. A couple of months after my needle stick, I asked Dr. Lane if he would do an “AIDS profile” on me. He did, and it was normal. After the antibody test became available, they started collecting serum, and Epidemiology launched this follow-up study. We all participated in that and had our blood drawn every six months.

During that next two years, I was stuck twice with a needle, but it was not directly from a patient. One was out of an intravenous line and one was out of a Hickman catheter. None of these needle sticks would happen today because of the safety measures that have been instituted. In my second stick, a nurse had left a needle on a bottle exposed. I picked it up and I got stuck. Fortunately, these needles did not have the blood of patients on them, so there probably was not as much risk as there was with that very first stick. A number of nurses in the clinic here have gotten stuck, and some take AZT (zidovudine) as a prophylaxis. Fortunately, no one has converted. It is not that easy to get AIDS even from a needle stick. I cannot remember how many sticks there have been around the country, but there have been a lot, and very few cases of AIDS have occurred. I think that is reassuring for the health care worker.

Harden: When they told you that it was going to be interesting if you started working at the NIH, you may not have anticipated all of this.

Baird: No. I certainly did not, but these past twelve years have been a good learning experience. Dr. Masur has been a good mentor and teacher. He knows how to give you the latitude so that you can learn but still be available for teaching. After awhile, you are on your own, and you teach yourself. The doctors are now also very good in including the nurse on the authorship of papers. My curriculum vitae looks very good. I have gotten authorship on the foscarnet paper, the ganciclovir paper, and the 566 paper, because I did the work; I pulled the data together. Much of what I do on the computer is graphs and charts of these data that eventually get published in the journals. It is nice to get the recognition.

Harden: Thank you, Mrs. Baird, for talking with us.

Addendum: August 1994
Baird: The HPMPC study was completed and found not to be very effective in preventing the development of CMV disease. Currently I am just finishing a study of a new antibiotic called Levofloxacin that will be released for the treatment of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. In addition I am working on a study to evaluate long-term survivors, also known as long-term nonprogressors. The goal is to see if there is something special about these persons that can be identified and ultimately used to help other HIV-infected persons.

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