Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The HIV epidemic in the 1980s and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are very different but the two share "some similarities" related to public health response, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was a researcher at the government agency during the early stages of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and he recalls the "messaging difficulty" he and his colleagues faced then.
At least initially, a widely held belief existed that HIV/AIDS affected only "one community" and "would not become a global problem," as it eventually did, Fauci said during a "fireside chat" hosted by Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Because some people infected with the new coronavirus only experience mild symptoms, "it's been difficult relating to the people how serious this [disease] is," Fauci said.
"If I'm a young, healthy person, I might think, 'This disease is not going to bother me,' so they're not going to participate in measures designed to limit the spread of the virus," he said.
"They may go to crowded bars, and not wear a mask. That may be fine for them, but they have to understand that they are propagating a pandemic."
Even without symptoms, people may "inadvertently or innocently" infect others, such as "someone's elderly parents, a woman with breast cancer on chemotherapy or a child with an immune deficiency -- in other words, people at risk for more serious illness," Fauci said.
To avoid becoming "part of the problem," he once again urged people in the United States to "pull together" to make an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.
As of Friday morning, the coronavirus had infected nearly 8 million people across the country, based on estimates from Johns Hopkins.
The efforts Fauci advocated include uniform wearing of masks or face coverings; keeping distance; avoiding crowded places, particularly indoors; maximizing time spent outdoors or in indoor spaces with good ventilation; and regularly washing hands.
"You can do that while still marching carefully to reopen the country," he said.
He again said that widespread availability of a vaccine against COVID-19 may not occur until "well into next year or even beyond."