AIDS council faults Hopkins, news media in case of surgeon

December 12, 1990|By Jean Marbella

Criticizing Johns Hopkins Hospital and the news media for how they handled the death of a surgeon from AIDS last month, members of the state's AIDS advisory council sought yesterday to quell the fears of the doctor's former patients.

The Governor's Advisory Council on AIDS will issue a statement saying it believes that there are no cases in which a health worker transmitted the disease to a patient and that AIDS is most commonly spread in the exchange of bodily fluids during hTC sexual contact or the sharing of needles in intravenous drug use.

"We can say there are no reported cases of transmission from surgeons to patients, or even health-care workers to patients," said Dr. Jack M. Zimmerman, a council member.

In a Florida case, health officials strongly suspect that a patient contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome from the dentist who extracted two of her teeth.

The council, at its regular monthly meeting, jumped into the fray created by revelations that Dr. Rudolph Almaraz, 41, a prominent breast cancer surgeon at Hopkins, died of AIDS. The hospital, which failed to confirm the nature of Dr. Almaraz's illness while he was alive, recently sent letters to an estimated 1,800 former patients of his offering free AIDS tests and counseling.

Council member Curt Decker, an advocate for people with AIDS, criticized Hopkins for sending the letter to all patients examined by Dr. Almaraz, rather than only to those on whom he had performed surgery. By doing that, Mr. Decker said, Hopkins was sending a "subliminal message" that people should be concerned about even being in the same room with someone who has AIDS.

"Hopkins has taken this extraordinary step . . . implying that somehow these [patients] might have been at risk," said council member John Watson of the National AIDS Information Clearing House.

He also took the news media to task for "whipping up the lowest common denominator of fear, the bogyman of AIDS."

Dr. John Bartlett, head of the Hopkins AIDS program and the only council member from the hospital, defended the hospital's actions.

"People are going to be concerned, and this is a way to allay those fears," said Dr. Bartlett, adding that Hopkins received about 400 calls from patients who had seen news reports about Dr. Almaraz.

At least two council members voiced concerns over health-care workers who have the AIDS virus continuing to practice.

"It seems to me physicians, nurses and other professionals have the absolute obligation to their profession not to engage in any procedure that would jeopardize the patient," said the outgoing chairman, Daniel Brewster.

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