How AIDS Truly Started
Do you where AIDS truly came from? As New York Post reports, In Randy Shilts’ history of AIDS, “And the Band Played On,” Air Canada steward named Gaëtan Dugas is pinpointed as the first case of then-named “gay cancer,” and blamed for bringing the virus to the US and infecting 40 people or more with HIV.
While there’s no doubt that Dugas helped spread the virus, new data shows that he was by no means the first case. In fact, HIV had already been around for nearly 75 years and likely already in the US for about 10 years, going virtually unnoticed due to its extreme rarity and doctors’ inability to identify what the issue was. As author David Quammen reveals in his new book “The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Rain Forest:”
“Dugas himself was infected by some other human, presumably during a sexual encounter — and not in Africa . . . somewhere closer to home.”
“As evidence now shows, HIV had already arrived in North America when Gaëtan Dugas was a virginal adolescent.”
And to the urban legends that HIV came from sexual contact between a human and a chimp — that’s not true either. The disease DID originate in simian blood, however the spread from chimp to human was much more organic:
“AIDS began with a spillover from one chimp to one human, in or near a small southeastern wedge of Cameroon, around 1908.” Quammen writes. The most likely way it jumped species was through a person Quammen calls the “Cut Hunter” — a man who hunted and butchered a chimpanzee infected with simian immunodeficiency virus and was wounded in the process. The chimp’s blood mingled with his through the cuts in his skin.
From there, the virus spread from person to person one at a time in low numbers, very slowly and unnoticed due to high mortality rates and frequent death by disease. The virus spread much faster mid-century when French-speaking Haitian colonials, placed there by Belgium, introduced re-usable syringes to the Congo while treating ailments.
Long story short, the disease went from the Congo to Haiti after the Belgian government fell and medics returned home, soon spreading to America after more syringe-sharing, blood-donation, and sexual contact between Americans and Haitians occurred:
“It reached hemophiliacs through the blood supply. It reached drug addicts through shared needles. It reached gay men… by sexual transmission, possibly from an initial contact between two males, an American and a Haitian.”
Interesting stuff, right? But while we’re figuring out where it all started…can we get them to figure out how to end it??