Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Jargon watch: meet Fiebig

EMILY BASS writes: There comes a time at every scientific conference where someone says something I’ve never heard before. Today that was “Fiebig Stage.” Turns out, this is a series of phases of acute infection (another term that was a complete mystery when I first heard it—it means: someone who just got infected—like last week, yesterday, or within the very recent past.)
The phases are determined by the emergence of various traces of HIV, starting with components of the virus itself (viral RNA or vRNA), then the p24 viral proten (tested in the p24 antigen test) and on to HIV-specific antibodies. A little Google-ing revealed that this term has been around for several years, perhaps longer. But it seems to likely to get thrown around more as research starts to focus more and more on immune responses and treatment in these early, early days—it’s one component of cure research, an emerging area of research.
The good news is that it’s relatively easy to decipher—after all, many of us learned the WHO stages of HIV infection, which were used to describe illness in the absence of ARVs and/or CD4 cell monitoring. The less-good news is that it gives scientists, or anyone else, really, another way to use language that strips the person living with HIV out of the sentence. You might hear, “This person was a Fiebig Stage II.” But, if today’s presentation is any indication, you might also hear, about a group of people, “The Fiebig Stage IIIs.”

Language matters. When we stop referring to people and start referring to stages, it’s a further wedge between the science and the people who it can benefit. (This goes, too, for “the chronics”—another term used today, apropos of people with chronic HIV infection aka people who have had HIV for a while.)
Stay tuned for more jargon alerts as the conference goes on!

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