Author: Carol

The AIDS Crisis: How Nora Brinkerhoff Invented a Public-Health Data Repository

The AIDS Crisis: How Nora Brinkerhoff Invented a Public-Health Data Repository

This restaurant runs with no trash cans. ‘It’s the right thing to do’

Nora Brinkerhoff had some time to kill in early 2016 when the San Francisco Bay Area was in the midst of a public-health crisis. As San Francisco had been experiencing a historic spike in the number of people with an STD, it became a matter of public health how far things had gone backward.

Binkerhoff was a health-policy researcher and professor, and she was worried and angry. It had happened before: Before, there were studies of the long-term effects of an STD, and the data was available if you wanted it. Today, there’s no reliable data. And there’s a real risk that some people’s sexual behavior might not be safe anymore.

As this was happening, Nora Brinkerhoff decided to do something about it. She started looking into whether the city could create a public-health data repository to measure the effects of an STD on sexual health.

She would start by conducting a study on the effects of HIV infection. If she could prove through a randomized control trial that people who are HIV-positive in San Francisco are less likely to have safe sex, she could be confident that the city, the county and the state would address the public health consequences of an STD.

As she began her research, she realized that she could use her own life to make her findings more credible. She knew there was reason to be afraid that something had gone wrong with her immune system. She had gone to doctor after doctor, tested positive for several infections but never told them what had caused her immune system to fail. When she tested positive for HIV a third time in 2016, she decided to test the theory that her immune system had actually been compromised by something else.

Her first tests, when she was diagnosed for the first time, revealed a positive result for Lyme disease. Then she had a second blood test, which yielded a negative result. But she decided to go back to the lab and retest the blood, this time with one more antibody test, and the results were now positive: Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis.

This time, however, there were no clear explanations for the immune system’s failure. She couldn’t think of any, except that someone had injected

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