Just where did AIDS come from?
The first recognised cases of AIDS occurred in the USA in the early 1980s (more about this period can be found on our history page). A number of gay men in New York and San Francisco suddenly began to develop rare opportunistic infections and cancers that seemed stubbornly resistant to any treatment. At this time, AIDS did not yet have a name, but it quickly became obvious that all the men were suffering from a common syndrome. The discovery of HIV, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus that causes AIDS was made soon after. While some were initially resistant to the connection (and indeed remain so today), there is now clear evidence to prove that HIV does cause AIDS. So, in order to find the source of AIDS, it is necessary to look for the origin of HIV, and find out How, When and Where HIV first began to cause disease in humans.
Three of the earliest known instances of HIV infection are as follows:
- A plasma sample taken in 1959 from an adult male living in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- HIV found in tissue samples from an American teenager who died in St. Louis in 1969.
- HIV found in tissue samples from a Norwegian sailor who died around 1976.
A 1998 analysis of the plasma sample from 1959 has suggested7 that HIV-1 was introduced into humans around the 1940s or the early 1950s; much earlier than previously thought. Other scientists have dated the sample to an even earlier period - perhaps as far back as the end of the 19th century.
In January 2000 however, the results of a new study presented at the 7th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, suggested that the first case of HIV-1 infection occurred around 1930 in West Africa . The study was carried out by Dr Bette Korber of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The estimate of 1930 (which does have a 15 year margin of error) was based on a complicated computer model of HIV's evolution. If accurate, it means that HIV was in existence before many scenarios suggest.
One thing to remember, is as we are not quite sure where AIDS and HIV come from, there is one thing that is certain today, AIDS is still deadly...so protect yourself EVERYTIME!
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