AIDS/HIV – History and its spread
AIDS/HIV – History and its spread

AIDS/HIV – History and its spread

About 37 million people around the world are currently living with AIDS, making AIDS one of the worst pandemics in modern history. AIDS is caused by HIV virus. HIV is a virus that lives in human blood, sexual fluids, and breast milk. AIDS weakens your immune system, so your body has a hard time fighting off common germs, viruses, fungi, and other invaders.

Now the question arises from where did this deadly virus that spreads AIDS come from? And most importantly how did AIDS spread all over the world?


Between the fall of 1980 and the following spring in America, Dr. Michael Gottleib saw a string of 5 patients all gay men in their 20s and 30s with an unusual kind of pneumonia. There was a fungus growing inside their lungs. Normally this fungus is totally harmless and would never infect the lungs, but in these men, it had and it was making it hard for them to breathe.

Some of these gay patients also had yeast infections in their mouths. These things were reported in June. A month later a dermatologist in New York chimed in with a similarly disturbing report this time with Kaposi Sarcoma, a very rare cancer. Within 2 and a half years 26 young gay men in New York and LA had been diagnosed with Kaposi Sarcoma. Suddenly all healthy young gay men were developing extremely rare infections and cancers and it was killing them.

Doctor checking for HIV

Now at this point, scientists had no idea what was making these gay people sick. They didn’t know if it was some sort of toxin or a pathogen. And if it was an infection of some kind then they didn’t know how it was spreading. That means they couldn’t warn people how to protect themselves. At this time many people called this mystery disease (i. e AIDS) GRID – Gay-related immune deficiency or Gay cancer or Gay plaque. Later on, it was found that this disease wasn’t limited to only gay men. Doctors observed similar cases in IV users, women, infants, and heterosexual men. In particular, 20 immigrants from HAITI had gotten sick and none said they were gay. These clues were important because they told scientists that this disease was probably infectious and probably transmitted by blood and sexual intercourse.

After these incidents took place. Soon it became apparent that this condition was much more common in Africa and it looked as if the virus must have come from there but it was a shock to everybody to discover just how widespread it was in Africa. So, it became pretty obvious that it must have evolved there. This virus (i. e HIV) had been in Africa for 100 years before. It had been around for a long time. Sort of slowly creeping around and increasing in the population without ever being noticed.

So, the scientist started looking in the west and central Africa from where the virus could have jumped from an animal source. They started looking at animal primates from zoos and wildlife centers and then eventually found a virus that was pretty similar in chimpanzees known as SIV (Simian immunodeficiency virus). But the problem was that they looked at about a thousand chimpanzees and found this virus in only 4 of them. Three of them were similar but one wasn’t similar. So, 3 out of 1000 wasn’t enough to justify the source.

AIDS in chimpanzee

So, the scientist decided that they would have a look at the wild species of chimpanzees. Now these wild species are quite rare, they are reclusive, they don’t like humans, they are aggressive, they are large and most importantly some are even endangered species. So, you can’t just march up to them and take a blood sample from them. So, these scientists actually spent 2 years working out how to get the virus from these animals and then finally they found a solution.

By analyzing chimpanzees pee and poo which were scraped off the forest floor, they took 600 samples and then the researchers thought that the chimpanzee who passed that version of the virus lived in southwest of Cameroon of central Africa in the forest near Congo. After a lot of work, they figured out that the virus behind the epidemic was very similar to the chimpanzee version of SIV and they were the ones who had passed it to us.


AIDS spread in africa

There is no real way to put this delicately, but most scientists agree that the reason SIV made a leap into the humans is that we had a taste for bushmeat or wild game. Blood exposures however are 900 times are more likely to result in infection than sexual contact. It is therefore likely that the transmission from primate to humans was the result of hunters trapping, butchering, and eating chimpanzees. The practice of hunting primates for what is called bushmeat is well documented in tribal groups in certain areas of Africa.

The SIV is close enough to human biology to infect the hunter and overtime if the hunter passes the virus along to enough people, it evolves into the HIV we know.


By the 1920s it is thought that the virus traveled from Cameroon to the downriver in a person OfCourse to Kinshasa the capital of Congo which is located in Central Africa. So, at that time there weren’t many women around other than prostitutes, so experts think HIV may have spread that way in Kinshasa. It could be said that it was not African culture that led to the spread of HIV but because of prostitution, injectable drugs, and urbanization that probably allowed HIV to escape the small region in which it frequently emerged. This was before disposable syringes when nurses were trying to treat people with syringes that had only been rinsed with alcohol before using on the next patient.

AIDS through BT

With time, infected people in Kinshasa left to go other places and they brought the virus with them. Because the virus mutates so quickly, we can group these viruses into nine different subtypes and get a sense of how HIV traveled around the world from central Africa. Several subtypes spread to other parts of Africa. Subtype C went South and then landed in India. Subtype B went to HAITI and then came to US. In HAITI, HIV expanded especially quickly possibly because of a plasmapheresis center where people would get paid to donate their blood plasma. The center used a machine that used to mix the blood of different donors and this allowed HIV to transfer. 

HIV is thought to have entered the US around 1969 with just one infected person or unit of plasma from HAITI. The popularized idea of the Canadian gay flight attendant as patient zero is very misleading he was certainly not the first case outside of Africa or in North America but he was the index case in the large cluster of 248 gay patients in 1983 in America.



It took about a decade for anyone to notice but by then it was too late, the epidemic had begun and HIV was not only in America but in Europe and Asia too. In 1986 the cause of AIDS had been given an official name HIV. Since the start of the AIDS crisis, some 70 million people had been infected with HIV and 35 million of those people have died. Both these numbers are staggering in their own way and together they tell the story of a disease that led to an incredible amount of loss.

It took decades to figure out what exactly HIV or AIDS were and how you can treat or prevent them.

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Author : Dr. Easminara shaikh

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