The History Of AIDS Gets Some Needed Revision

Beth Mole writes a really interesting article on a recent study that absolves the man commonly referred to as “Patient Zero” from being responsible for bringing AIDS into the U.S. in 1981.

Turns out (as I had long suspected), AIDS has a much lengthier history than was originally thought.  From Mole’s article:

“By clocking the evolution of the genetic sequences and the virus’ geographic spread, the researchers estimate that HIV arrived in the Caribbean from Africa around 1967, hopped from the Caribbean to New York City around 1971 (between 1969 and 1973), and landed in San Francisco by about 1976.”

Although I was personally not worried (I’m not gay), it was genuinely frightening to learn of this disease from The Larry King Show back in 1981.  Nobody knew what it was, and the ease with which at that time it apparently spread, coupled with its extraordinary lethality, made it a disease of which to be wary.  I knew even then, however, that if researchers were just becoming aware of it, AIDS had to have existed in some form long before it was first reported.

“Patient Zero,” Gaetan Dugas, a French Canadian airline attendant, was misidentified all along, both as a subject of study and as the U.S. source of the disease.  He was actually meant to be called “Patient O” (oh) in the reports, designating someone who was from outside California.  Further, if the genetic research is accurate (and genetics don’t lie), Dugas was far too young to be the source.  His genes show him to be just one of many individuals who were infected before the disease was identified.

Mole’s article reveals to us once again the way science can and does work in the correction of its errors.  I knew that there was a Patient Zero.  He had been identified.  What no one knew until now were the mistakes surrounding that identification.  There is one other bit of information the article clears up, too:  AIDS origin in Africa.  I had vaguely thought that Africa had been dismissed as an origin point some years ago, but now that I think about it further, what I was remembering was the belief that AIDS has a heterosexual source, not a gay one, in Africa.  It will be interesting to see if genetic research can ultimately go back far enough to discover who the source of the disease was in Africa, and whether he was heterosexual or gay.

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