The Origin of AIDS
Summarized from AIDS Update 2001
L. Michele Henline
June 10, 2002

The Origin of AIDS

     Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, (AIDS), was identified twenty-one years ago and is now the leading killer among all known infectious diseases.  It is also ranked fourth among all causes of death.  AIDS is a broad term for any or all of some twenty-seven known diseases and symptoms.  Once a person has been diagnosed with any of these diseases or has a T4 lymphocyte count of less than 200/ml of blood and also tests positive for antibodies to Human Immunodeficiency Virus, (HIV), an AIDS diagnosis is given.
    This disease affects the vulnerable population groups more then other groups of people.  These groups include children, women, the poor, the destitute and many others in low to medium poverty levels.  Most of the infected cannot afford effective heath care.
    On June 5, 1981, the first cases of AIDS were reported from Los Angeles in five young homosexual men diagnosed with Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and other opportunistic infections.  Due to the fact of the first cases and most frequently reported cases of AIDS were among homosexuals, it was originally believed that the transmission was solely through sexual activities.  In July of 1982, cases of AIDS began appearing among hemophiliacs and people who had received a blood transfusion as well as injection drug users.  The common denominator now is an exchange of body fluids.  There were also reports of 34 cases of a new disease among Haitian immigrants to the United Stated and 12 cases of a disease previously unknown in Haiti.  Michael Gottlieb identified this new disease and reported it to have higher rates among homosexuals.  The men were dying from what the doctors labeled as opportunistic infections, such as Pneumocystis pneumonia, and toxoplasmosis.
    In July of 1981, the CDC reported that an uncommon cancer had been diagnosed in 26 homosexuals who lived in New York City and California.  They called this cancer Kaposis sarcoma (KS).  KS if diagnosed normally was found in older men of Hebrew or Italian ancestry.  The sudden increase in pneumonia cases, caused by a generally harmless fungus, P. carinii, and KS cases indicated that an infectious type of immune deficiency was on the rise.  They initially labeled this Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) due to the fact of being quickly spread through the homosexual community.  It was also noted to being spread among injection drug users and blood transfusions recipients as well.
    Later in 1982 and 1983, the name was changed to AIDS for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.  This was after a cellular deficiency of the human immune system was found in every AIDS patient as well as other signs and symptoms of disease.  This was also due to the fact of this disease being acquired from the action of some environmental agent.  In January of 1983, heterosexual cases appeared.  Both were women who were partners to Injected drug users.  Later in 1983, cases of AIDS were reported from Central Africa among heterosexuals who did not use injection drugs.  This led the data to reveal AIDS is primarily a sexually transmitted disease.  By increasing the numbers of sex partners, the risk of AIDS also increases.  In 1987, 36,000 men, women, and children had been diagnosed with AIDS, and over 25,000 had died of AIDS.
    There are other reasons for a suppressed immune system, such as congenital inherited immune deficiencies, exposure to radiation, alkalating agents, corticosteroids, and certain forms of cancer and cancer chemotherapy.  However, it is more common to be caused by the HIV.  A French scientist identified this virus in early 1983.  Almost everyone diagnosed with the HIV/AIDS will die.  However, those diagnosed with only the HIV, 5% may not progress to AIDS.
    There have been many thoughts, rumors and myths as to the origin of AIDS.  Many believed it to be an act of God, a religious curse or penalty against homosexuality.  Some believed AIDS formed from sperm exposure to amyl nitrate, a substance used to increase sexual pleasure.  Others believed AIDS was caused by excessive stressed immune systems and died from other infections before being able to recover.  Then there were those that believed AIDS was a myth after a talk show host claimed it to be a myth and many people stopped their medication and treatment.
    A myth was started that the United States government created HIV in order to decimate the population of Central Africa.  Another conspiracy theory was to use AIDS as part of a genocidal plot to kill black people.  There were even early reports of UFO’s crashing to Earth and releasing a “new organism” that would end humanity.  Other reports were linking AIDS with American biological warfare research.  Domestic cats were also to blame.  This belief developed from the fact that cats can carry the feline Immunodeficiency virus called “feline AIDS”.
    The origin of HIV has also developed into myths such as being created by contaminated polio, smallpox, hepatitis, and tetanus vaccines, the African green monkey, African people, their cattle, pigs and sheep as well as the United States CIA.  Through the recent work of Beatrice Hahn and colleagues, the origin of HIV-like virus may have been in the chimpanzee, Pantroglodytes troglodytes.
    Scientist continue to search for the origin of HIV or HIV-like ancestor.  However, there are several theories on the origin of AIDS.  It appears to have spread from Central Africa while the HIV virus has spread from West Africa and the islands off its coast.  Another theory is that humans were first infected through direct contact with HIV-infected monkeys.  The research continues while the general public has these theories to ponder.

Stine, G. J. (2001). AIDS Update 2001. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

More Links:

AIDS Treatment Data Network AMA HIV/AIDS Information Center Gay Men's Health Crisis

AIDS.ORG - Quality Treatment Information and Resources
AIDS Education Global Information System (AEGiS)  International AIDS Society
HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service CDC-NCHSTP-Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention AIDS Action
AIDS in the African media Harvard AIDS Institute STOP AIDS Project
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