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The founding dean of UNLV's School of Community Health Sciences was once known as "Dr. Herpes," because of her work studying sexually transmitted diseases for the Centers for Disease Control in the early 1980s.
While the nickname was a quip, the work Mary Guinan was doing was no joke. There were still many unknowns about sexually transmitted diseases, and there was one that was particularly troublesome.
"Up until that point, we didn't have any sexually transmitted diseases that were killing people," Guinan said. "This one was."
Of course, Guinan is referring to the AIDS epidemic that was sweeping the country. Guinan was called to a special task force of doctors to find out more about the disease that had America panicked.
Her work was made more difficult in large part, she said, due to widespread homophobia, and the notion that gay people were the cause of the disease. As a result, funding for the research was limited.
"It was an incredibly difficult time," Guinan said. "There was a great deal of homophobia, and there was no funding coming in.
Political infighting amongst the scientific community was also complicating the work.
"At the same time other researchers were presenting papers saying why women couldn't get it," Guinan said. "It was the whole idea that if women could get it, then heterosexual men could get it and that was too horrible a thing to even thing about."
By 1982, however, Guinan and her team knew that women, heterosexual men, and newborn babies could contract the virus that causes AIDS.
Many years later, Guinan has worked to improve the health of all Nevadans. She said Nevada was one of the first states to implement the prevention of newborn infection by putting it into statutes.
Guinan told KNPR's State of Nevada what she still thinks is the biggest health threat to the state.
"Well, One of the big ones that we're trying to address is the lack of health care personnel," she said, "We don't have enough physicians and nurses and all the various people we need."
Her memoir, "Adventures of a Female Medical Detective," is set to be released in March 2016.
Mary Guinan, founding dean, UNLV's School of Community Health Sciences
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