Maryland's chief medical examiner is unhappy that doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital are not indicating AIDS as a cause of death on death certificates.
Dr. John Smialek has written the doctors to ask them to call AIDS by its name so that people handling the bodies are aware that precautions should be taken.
Dr. John Bartlett, chief of the Hopkins division of infectious diseases, said that the hospital does not list AIDS out of concern for the privacy of patients' families. When a person dies of acquired immune deficiency syndrome at the hospital, he said, doctors list the immediate cause of death -- such as pneumonia -- and then say that it was secondary to "immunodeficiency," and that is secondary to "retrovirus infection."
A health professional would equate the term "retrovirus" with AIDS, Bartlett said, but most members of the public who might gain access to a person's death certificate would not.
The phrase is used because there have been several incidents in which "patients' families became very irate" that AIDS went on the death certificate, Bartlett said, adding, "It's a very touchy issue."
Smialek has instructed all state medical examiners to designate AIDS on death certificates because he said people handling bodies need to know that they should use extra precautions.