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Using the 1980s Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) surveillance definitions for AIDS, this article examines how the CDC’s rhetorical techniques may have been harnessed to create more inclusive AIDS morbidity and mortality data in the U.S. epidemic’s first decade. The CDC’s decision to privilege disease specificity over sensitivity led women, people of color, and drug users to be underrepresented in epidemiological reporting due to AIDS’s manifestation as more commonly seen—and therefore less specific—diseases in these populations. My analysis of the first three AIDS definitions shows heavy reliance on four classical topoi as the CDC sought to constrain who was and was not considered an AIDS case for national reporting. I argue that, while these four topoi—space, time, correlation, and causation—did constrain symptoms to the desired specificity, the CDC had the ability to place similar specifications on common diseases for the sake of including vulnerable communities in surveillance data.
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