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The History of HIV/AIDS
LA 254- HIV/AIDS IN SOCIETY
Prof. Sol Velazquez, LMSW
History of HIV
• HIV was first reported as a new and distinct
clinical disease by the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) in June 1981.
At the time, the condition did not have a
• Doctors in San Francisco, Los Angeles and
New York had documented an unusual
cluster of diseases in young homosexual
• These diseases, Kaposi’s sarcoma and PCP
(Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia), were
previously unknown to this group.
History of HIV (cont’d)
• All of the subjects were suffering from
general immune deficiency.
• Their bodies were vulnerable to rare
• The subjects were otherwise healthy.
The Earliest Known Cases
• Five young homosexual men in Los
Angeles were diagnosed with PCP.
• 26 homosexual men, from both New York
and San Francisco, were diagnosed with
• 11 cases of Pneumocystis carinii
pneumonia were documented.
The Earliest Known Cases (cont’d)
• Since all of the first cases of this newly
identified disease involved homosexual men,
researchers initially considered sex among gay
men the route of transmission.
• The condition was named GRIDS (Gay-
Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
• However, HIV cases were soon reported in
other populations as well.
The Spread to Other Populations
• IV drug users
• Blood transfusion recipients
• Adults from Central Africa
• Haitians living in the United States
• Infants born to IV drug using mothers
• Researchers then
hypothesized that because the
virus was primarily affecting
homosexual men and IV drug
users, the agent causing the
disease was probably both
blood-borne and sexually
Identifying the Virus
• By 1982, research was going on in both the
United States and France to identify the
• In the United States, Dr. Robert C. Gallo of
the National Cancer Institute called the virus
HTLV-III (human T-cell lymphotropic virus
• In France, Dr. Luc Montagnier and his
colleagues at the Pasteur Institute in Paris
called the virus LAV (Lymphadenopathy-
Luc Montagnier and Robert Gallo
Identifying the Virus (cont’d)
• Both groups of researchers were
working on the same virus.
• In subsequent years, there was a
dispute as to who discovered the virus.
• In 1983, the disease was said to be
caused by the Human
Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
• Credit for the discovery was given jointly
to the U.S. team and the French group.
• The term AIDS stands for Acquired
Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
• It is the name given to the condition
associated with the HIV virus.
• It replaced the name GRIDS when it
became apparent that the disease was
not just limited to gay men.
Before the AIDS Era
• A review of the medical literature dating back to
the 1950s found 19 cases of what appear to be
• Meaning? The illnesses fit the CDC criteria for
HIV/AIDS with regards to risk factors,
symptoms and progression.
Before the AIDS Era (cont’d)
• The mean age of patients was 37 years.
• More males than females.
• Sixteen patients had opportunistic infections without
• The remainder had Kaposi's sarcoma.
• Two patients were reported to be homosexual.
• Three others had been living in Africa.
• One patient was born in Haiti.
• In two instances concurrent or subsequent
opportunistic infection occurred in family members.
• All patients died 1 month to 6 years after the initial
manifestation of disease.
The Case of Robert R.
• Frozen tissue and serum samples stored at the
University of Arizona were available for one of these
possible early AIDS cases.
• The patient was a 15-year-old black male, named Robert
R. from St. Louis, Missouri, who was hospitalized in
• When admitted, the patient had extensive swelling of the
genitalia and lower extremities and swelling of the lymph
nodes in his neck.
The Case of Robert R. (cont’d)
• Chlamydia was also found in his body, indicating that he
was sexually active.
• During the following year, Robert R. deteriorated.
• He died on May 16, 1969.
• Tests done in the mid 1980s found that he had HIV-
• The patient had never received a blood transfusion, nor
had he ever traveled outside of the United States.
• Implication: The virus may have been introduced into
the human population long before the first cases were
HIV and Primates
• Soon after AIDS was recognized in humans,
researchers began to report cases of a similar
virus in colonies of monkeys.
• The virus, called Simian Immunodeficiency
Virus (SIVsm) was found in African green
monkeys, white-collared monkeys and the sooty
mangabey monkey, among others.
• Another strain of the virus, named SIVcpz was
found in chimpanzees.
HIV and Primates (cont’d)
• The SIV virus was found in more than 30 African primate
species (ex. red-capped mangabeys, spot-nosed
• However, the virus was not causing illness or death to
• The questions then:
– Did this simian virus infect humans?
– How is it possible?
From Species to Species
• It has been known for some time that certain viruses can
pass between species, including from animals to humans.
• The transfer of disease from animals to humans is known
• Other examples of zoonosis:
– Bubonic plague
– Avian Influenza (Bird flu)
– “Mad-cow” disease
The Contamination of Humans
• It is theorized that the virus at
some point crossed species--
from primates to humans.
• But how?
Natural Process Theory
This theory proposes that hunters of chimpanzees
contracted the virus as early as the 1940s. (This time
frame was arrived at based on a study done in 2000
using a computer model to track the evolution of the HIV
virus. Margin of error: 15 years).
The hunters cut themselves while preparing infected
The virus then mutated into HIV and was passed along
through millions of humans.
Natural Process Theory (cont’d)
• The virus could have also been transferred to
humans through the selling and consumption of
primate bushmeat sold in African markets, an
ongoing practice in parts of Africa.
• Both preparers of the meat and those who ate it
could have easily become infected.
• Oral Polio Vaccine theory
– Polio vaccine called CHAT was developed in Africa
(Belgian Congo, Rwanda and Urundi) during the
1950s. The theory is that the vaccine was produced
using the kidney cells of infected chimps infected
with SIV. This then led to the subsequent infection of
humans with HIV.
– This theory was disproved when samples of the
original polio vaccine were analyzed and no traces
of either HIV or SIV were found.
– Other tests showed that the kidney cells were taken
from the Asian macaque monkey only, which has
been shown to be incapable of being infected with
either SIV or HIV.
Other Theories (cont’d)
• Contaminated Needle Theory
– Healthcare professionals in Africa during
the 1950s used needles on multiple
patients as a way to save money on
– The virus could have been spread from
one person (ex. a chimp hunter) to another
with relative ease.
Other Theories (cont’d)
• The Colonialism Theory
– People across Africa, under colonial rule, were subjected
to harsh conditions in labor camps, leading to food
scarcity, poor sanitation and poor health.
– As a result, SIV could have infiltrated those camps and
taken advantage of the weakened immune system of the
• Workers may have been inoculated with contaminated
• Workers may have become contaminated via prostitution
because many of the camps employed prostitutes to keep
the workers happy.
– Labor camps were set up around the time that HIV was
first believed to have passed into humans—the early 20th
Other Theories (cont’d)
• The Conspiracy Theory
–HIV is a man-made virus and was
designed to be part of a
government biological warfare
• Blacks and gays.
Prevalence of HIV/AIDS
• HIV/AIDS has spread to virtually every
continent on the planet.
• Approximately 33 million people
worldwide have the disease.
• Presently, the country with the largest
population of people living with HIV/AIDS
is South Africa (5.5 million).
• There are about 1.1 million Americans
living with HIV/AIDS.
– Fifty-five thousand new infections occur