New Study Shows HIV Epidemic Started Spreading In New York In 1970, Clears the Name of ‘Patient Zero’
An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: A new genetic study confirms theories that the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS started in New York around 1970, and it also clears the name of a gay flight attendant long vilified as being “Patient Zero.” Researchers got hold of frozen samples of blood taken from patients years before the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS was ever recognized, and teased out genetic material from the virus from that blood. They use it to show that HIV was circulating widely during the 1970s, and certainly before people began noticing a “gay plague” in New York in the early 1980s. “We can date the jump into the U.S. in about 1970 and 1971,” Michael Worobey, an expert on the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, told reporters in a telephone briefing. Their findings also suggest HIV moved from New York to San Francisco in about 1976, they report in the journal Nature. Their findings confirm widespread theories that HIV first leapt from apes to humans in Africa around the beginning of the 20th century and circulated in central Africa before hitting the Caribbean in the 1960s. The genetic evidence supports the theory that the virus came from the Caribbean, perhaps Haiti, to New York in 1970. From there it spread explosively before being exported to Europe, Australia and Asia. The Worobey team also sequenced samples of virus taken from Gaetan Dugas, a Canadian flight attendant named as “Patient Zero.” Dugas died in 1984 and stunned researchers when he told them he’d had about 250 sexual partners a year between 1979 and 1981, although it later became clear that was not uncommon. The sequences make it clear he was a victim of an epidemic that had already been raging, and not its originator, Worobey said. “It’s shocking how this man’s name has been sullied and destroyed by this incorrect history,” said Peter Staley, a former Wall Street bond trader who became an AIDS activist in New York in the 1980s. “He was not Patient Zero and this study confirms it through genetic analysis,” Staley told NBC News. “No one should be blamed for the spread of viruses,” Worobey said.