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United States Earth Medicine Science Technology

New Study Shows HIV Epidemic Started Spreading In New York In 1970, Clears the Name of 'Patient Zero' (nbcnews.com) 380

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.
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New Study Shows HIV Epidemic Started Spreading In New York In 1970, Clears the Name of 'Patient Zero'

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  • by plopez ( 54068 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @11:39PM (#53159149) Journal

    At leat I found it interesting

    http://www.radiolab.org/story/... [radiolab.org]

  • AIDS in the 1970s (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @11:41PM (#53159159)

    I grew up in San Francisco, and by the mid-70s the "skinny dying gay man" was something we already talked about. When AIDS was named and later discovered to be HIV we knew then what that "skinny dying gay man" syndrome was all about.

    When many years later Patient 0 was identified with infection starting in the early 1980s I knew right away that they were wrong and that AIDS had reached America at least ten years earlier.

    This article shows that. I've always been very surprised that not a single doctor who dealt with AIDS patients before 1980 (and now we know there were hundreds of them) stepped up and called out the timeline as being utterly wrong.

  • Radiolab did an episode about Patient Zero http://www.radiolab.org/story/... [radiolab.org]
  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @11:48PM (#53159197) Journal

    Bullshit. Your responsibility is to self-quarantine until you are sure that you aren't infectious. Otherwise, you're culpable for the people you infect. That jerk who comes to work with an active flu and infects the whole place should have to suffer with ten consecutive flus for that.

    The only special pass in this case is that the HIV infected people of the 1970s and 80s had no idea they were sick.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Didn't you just contradict yourself? I agree that, say, coming to work when you know that you have the flu because your boss expects it is a voluntary act (ignoring for a moment the motivation behind it, which, IMO, is coerced) because you KNOW that you have an infectious disease. When you have no idea that you are carrying/passing a virus because the government willfully ignored the evidence for many years therefore exacerbating said situation, well.....
      • by HBI ( 604924 )

        I made an exception to a general principle.

        The general principle is that you're an awful human being if you infect other people with a disease because it's inconvenient for you to call out of work or to change your travel plans. People do it all the time and they deserve to hear that.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 27, 2016 @12:38AM (#53159333)

      The only special pass in this case is that the HIV infected people of the 1970s and 80s had no idea they were sick.

      And a huge number of people carrying a huge number of sexually transmitted diseases today.

      Chlamydia often presents with no symptoms in women (https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/chlamydia).

      Herpes is contagious through frequent viral shedding (about 20% of the time) even if the carrier has never noticed any kind of outbreak (http://justherpes.com/facts/herpes-viral-shedding/).

      Hepatitis of all forms may not have any concerning symptoms until the disease has progressed (http://www.healthline.com/health/hepatitis-c/symptoms)

      HIV can lie mostly dormant for years and still be transmissible (https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/just-diagnosed-with-hiv-aids/hiv-in-your-body/stages-of-hiv/)

      Primary syphilis presents as a painless ulcer like red spot that disappears after a few days. It's entirely likely to go unnoticed or be passed off as a skin irritation (http://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/stdfact-syphilis.htm)

      HPV can cause changes in skin tissue without ever causing a traditional "wart" or even a noticeable difference, yet HPV is being blamed for a large number of anal and genital cancers (https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/anogenital-warts)

      If people had any idea they were sick we could probably have stopped the STD epidemic years ago. The reality is that a lot of people don't know they are sick. Those at the highest risk (many sexual partners, injecting drug use, etc) often understate the risk. Testing is reasonably good at catching the serious diseases like HIV, Syphilis and Hepatitis. The tests are even sensitive enough now to detect the disease a week or two after the primary infection.

      There was an outbreak of a rare HIV strain in Australia recently that baffled doctors for a while. The patients tested negative to HIV but still had HIV-like symptoms. It was later discovered that they had the strain so rare that nobody tests for it unless it is suspected the patient has it. I can't find a reference to the article I read about it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "If people had any idea they were sick we could probably have stopped the STD epidemic years ago."

        It's like STDs have evolved to spread without causing obvious symptoms that prevent the carrier from getting laid and spreading them or something.

      • The majority of sexually active people in America have HPV- and what's more, it can be transmitted even with a condom in use.

        Most people don't show symptoms, at least not early on, but it could be responsible for all sorts of cancers. I'm glad HPV vaccines are now in use for the kids... too late for our generation.

    • Bullshit. Your responsibility is to self-quarantine until you are sure that you aren't infectious. Otherwise, you're culpable for the people you infect. That jerk who comes to work with an active flu and infects the whole place should have to suffer with ten consecutive flus for that.

      Except you are spreading the infection well before you show symptoms, and everyone at the office has probably already been exposed (whether they use that useless hand lotion or not.) So basically, learn about how viruses spread before hunting for witches.

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Influenza outbreak modelling generally assumes that about 1/3 of transmission is from asymptomatic or presymptomatic carriers. Virus shedding starts around a day before symptoms appear, even in the symptomatic. There are estimates that 75% of common cold infections are asymptomatic.

    • by flink ( 18449 )

      That jerk who comes to work with an active flu and infects the whole place should have to suffer with ten consecutive flus for that.

      I don't know about you, but I only get 5 sick days a year. Those have to cover not only myself, but I might also have to use them if my wife is too sick to take care of the kids, or the kids are sick but my wife has to work. So if I'm sick and I can work from home I will, but if that's not possible, I'll drag myself to the office unless I'm physically incapable of doing so rather than use a sick day.

    • So...No Libel Suit

      No slander suit either.

      Slander is spoken. Libel is printed. They're both defamation, but they mean different things.

      • The difference is subtler nowadays, but the act is exactly the same: libel is the widespread form of slander; IANAL but I have some experience in talking to lawyers about this as I spent twenty years as a broadcast journalist. If it is printed, broadcast, webcasted, shouted from rooftops or in public assemblies, or otherwise widely distributed, the harm is far greater than if it is simply spoken to individuals. Kinda like the difference between misdemeanor theft and felony grand theft.

        I would have written

  • That is some really great detective work, going back all the way to the start of the last century.
    • Re: great (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think I remember reading about a study done in Africa where somebody found old blood samples from the 1950s (maybe earlier?), tested them for HIV antibodies, and found not one, but *several* that subsequent testing confirmed. HIV might not have reached *America* until the 60s or 70s, but it was *definitely* making its way around Africa at least a decade or two earlier.

      • The current research I've read seems to suggest that the first HIV infections probably happened 70 or 80 years ago. One would also imagine that the virus, not really evolved fine tuning for humans, might have exhibited more muted symptoms (or conversely, it might have been much more lethal, like some other viruses are, and burn themselves out by killing hosts too quickly). In developing countries a lot of things can kill a person before they die of an HIV infection, so it probably simply wasn't noticed unti

        • I may be mistaken, but I think in general a zoonotic infection is more deadly when it first jumps, and then attenuates a bit as it adapts to the new host. For example, if I recall correctly, chimps can be infected with HIV but it doesn't destroy their immune system and give them AIDS. The problem with HIV in humans is that it takes so long to kill the host that there is less selective pressure for the virus to attenuate than, say, with ebola.
  • I don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by alzoron ( 210577 ) on Wednesday October 26, 2016 @11:56PM (#53159225) Journal

    How is this guy somehow vindicated by not being the first carrier? He still did every single irresponsible act he did when we believed he was the first. I would say this actually makes him look worse because due to the revision of the timeline there's a bigger chance that he might have heard about some mysterious new illness and should have been more careful. I mean, it's not like STDs were unheard of before the 80s

    • How is this guy somehow vindicated by not being the first carrier? He still did every single irresponsible act he did when we believed he was the first.

      Nobody believed he was the first until ten years after the fact of his "irresponsible act".

    • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

      Go ahead, say it. I know you want to...."innocent victims of AIDS"

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Lots of people have had unprotected sex through the ages. HIV infections certainly are one of the nastier STDs around, but diseases like hepatitis, herpes, syphilis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea have been infecting humans for thousands of years. The problem for any sexually active group in the 1960 and 1970s was that most bacterial STD infections were readily treated with penicillin, so if you got the clap, you got a prescription, cleaned yourself up and away you went. The only thing that singled gay men out mo

  • But, but... it was invented by the CIA! Everyone knows that.
    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      One thing in reality that reinforces conspiracy theories like that is many people such as the ex-CIA Republican candidate Evan McMullin who spent their career embedded in Medical NGOs.
      I'm not blaming him, he was doing a job, just the idiots in his management that thought up that counterproductive shit that makes utter loonies like the CIA-AIDS conspiracy nuts look like they have a point.
  • What where the best and brightest US pathologists and epidemiologists doing for a decade?
    With all the science grants and funding for cancer and the chemical/bio weapons treaty funding mix changes, what happened to basic public health reporting in the USA?
    Did no doctor not report strange new issues? Did no pathologists not have the feeling a book chapter might be before them or funding to chase?
    Did no public health official or health bureaucrats not have some map or database of interesting cases that got
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday October 27, 2016 @12:35AM (#53159329) Journal

      It's not suddenly, in 1979, tens of millions of gay men suddenly started showing signs of immunological deficiency. Because HIV infections take some time to develop into full blown AIDS (and that can be highly dependent on the individual), it would have taken a long time before there would be confirmation that there was something infecting gay men. And once you've established that there is some sort of sexually transmitted disease that leads to AIDS, you now have to literally pour through all sorts of tissue samples, blood samples, lymphatic samples, and so on and so on looking for the needle in the haystack. You'll probably end up going down a few false roads because many of these individuals probably had other STD infections, so you have to also be thinking "could this be some sort of mutated syphilis or hepatitis infection?"

      It is largely because of diseases like AIDS and the technology developed to isolate infectious agents that we are so much better today than we were thirty or forty years ago. To judge the medical community of the early 1980s by the standards of the 21st century is absurd.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Not everyone is on average so healthy and would get that easy 10 years. So some early cases should have presented given the average spread of the wider population. Poverty, work conditions, poor nutrition could all play a part not having above average health.
        Re "and so on and so on looking for the needle in the haystack." thats the idea of having great public health experts.
        Any local Dr can work with what they see all day everyday.
        The curiosity and follow up is what sets the really smart experts apar
        • "...And the Band Played On." which goes into that.

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          Medicine isn't nearly so scientific as you probably think. An average doctor might see a weird case once or twice that was actually AIDS but that's hard to separate from all the other weird cases they see on a daily basis (House: maybe it's lupus!). In the 70s there certainly weren't any good central databases for general medical records, and there still aren't, especially in the US, because of privacy and insurance concerns.

          If you were a doctor in the 70s and you saw a malnourished person waste away and

      • It's not suddenly, in 1979, tens of millions of gay men suddenly started showing signs of immunological deficiency.

        Tens of millions? I don't think so. Surely you mean thousands.

      • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )

        To judge the medical community of the early 1980s by the standards of the 21st century is absurd.

        But...but.. it's so fun to have illogical hatreds!

    • What where the best and brightest US pathologists and epidemiologists doing for a decade?

      Oh it was a weird time. There was so much politics around AIDS research, that it took forever for people to even accept the facts. Do you remember the HIV deniers? The people who insisted that HIV does not lead to AIDS, and that there was another cause? Congress was reluctant to spend any money on research, since they didn't want to be called out as helping gays. Researchers had to worry about how they presented their studies for fear of losing funding if they phrased things incorrectly.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Re 'Oh it was a weird time."
        Thats what I am trying to get someone with some 1970's insider medical knowledge to expand on. Was it a lack of reporting? Test got no funding so nobody could request more lab work? Was it an issue with autopsy skill, lack of funding for more tests or lack of any clear heath related autopsy reporting policy? What where the top teaching hospitals doing and their experts who should have been open to something new. New things make great book chapters and ensure more funding.
        • It was well before modern information technology. It is much easier to share large datasets today. Back then it would've involved sifting through paper. Now we can run everything through a statistical model to look for correlations that would not be mentally accessible to a human otherwise. We can do analysis in minutes that some poor bastard would've had to graph out back then. Hell, I'm only in my mid 30s and the stuff we can do now versus even when I was in college is a huge difference in scale and
        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          1970s medical technology wasn't anything like what we've got now. Identifying and isolating a new virus is still a tricky undertaking. In the 1970s it was much more so. A Nobel prize was awarded for the discovery of HIV and its link to AIDS.

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        Deniers are still around and even in positions of power (South Africa...). My "favorite" claimed cause of AIDS was a quacking idiot that claimed it resulted from petroleum jelly used as lubricant...

      • Not all "deniers" were crackpots, at least back then.

        And in all fairness, some of the science that led to the discovery of HIV was a bit dodgy, in terms of how it was executed and reported (not, in hindsight, with regard to its contents). Also, the proposed mechanisms of how HIV works were rather novel for the time, so it is not hard to see why some more conservative members of the science community might have been on the fence for a while about whether this was indeed the cause of AIDS. Add to this that ev

  • Anyone having 750 sexual partners over 3 years is a walking petri dish for all sorts of venereal diseases. It's no surprise that AIDS took hold in the gay community if it's true that that level of promiscuity was commonplace.

    In the 1970's San Francisco had a male population of 345,680 (http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/counties/SanFranciscoCounty70.htm) of whom 6.2% were gay (http://time.com/3752220/lgbt-san-francisco/). That works out to a male gay population of 21432 people.

    According to the CDC, the tra

  • by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Thursday October 27, 2016 @01:04AM (#53159403) Journal

    "... the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS started in New York around 1970"
    This sentence is copied from the article, but on further reading you see that it is the USA epidemic, not the global epidemic, which is being talked about.

    Compare the opening sentence of this article [theguardian.com], "Scientists have managed to reconstruct the route by which HIV/Aids arrived in the US – exonerating once and for all the man long blamed for the ensuing pandemic in the west."

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday October 27, 2016 @01:09AM (#53159423)

    Why didn't AIDS become as big in the hetero community -- or did it, and the media has never reported it that way? I know its a problem in Africa, but I'm most interested in the US.

    Female-to-male spread harder? Lower frequency sex in heteros? Lower sex partner churn in heteros?

    I came of age in the 1980s when AIDS was a big deal and frankly, almost never was it something I found my female partners to be concerned with. They worried about pregnancy, although even that was often not taken too seriously.

    • Why didn't AIDS become as big in the hetero community.

      Really? Do you not know anything about the gay scene? I'll give you a clue, the amount of fucking is in the region of 10-100 times greater than in hetero land. That means contagions have a 10-100 times greater chance of spreading.

      • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Thursday October 27, 2016 @09:05AM (#53160683)

        Why didn't AIDS become as big in the hetero community.

        Really? Do you not know anything about the gay scene? I'll give you a clue, the amount of fucking is in the region of 10-100 times greater than in hetero land. That means contagions have a 10-100 times greater chance of spreading.

        That doesn't tell the full story though. Yes, they have higher success rates at hooking up (straight men would too if women were as easy).

        On top of that though, there was lack of condom usage several decades ago. Men can't get other men pregnant. There is also the nature of the sex- anal transmission is much higher than vaginal transmission. It's a lot harder to spread AIDs vaginally.

        Another big factor in why it didn't spread as much in the heterosexual community: it's much harder for a woman to pass the disease to someone else than it is for a man. A man with the disease is much more likely to infect his partner than a woman with the disease is.

        It's more complicated than JUST a number of partners thing (Although that obviously amplifies the problem).

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      It did and still does affect heterosexuals in larger numbers than is reported. The problem is that heterosexuals don't really get reported on because lower testing rates and due to the taboo on extramarital affairs. HIV is still not in many standard test and can also lay dormant and never emerge as AIDS.

      There are plenty of stds that affect a lot of people yearly, the more sexually free communities tend to be vocal about it, but for many "sleeping around" is still taboo even though a high percentage of peopl

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Female to male spread is much harder than the other direction. And male to female spread via vaginal intercourse is much harder than male to male or female spread via anal intercourse. Condom use for casual sex is also a lot more common when there's a risk of pregnancy.

  • They guy may not have truly been "patient zero" but if he didn't fuck 1000 people from all over the world, it sure would have spread a lot slower. Not making any kind of moral observation here, just weird every news story I read talks about him being somehow "vindicated."

  • > "No one should be blamed for the spread of viruses," Worobey said.

    I blame the guys with 250 sexual partners per year.

    inb4 homophobia, same would apply to heteros.

  • I am not a medical person, but why does this seem like someone is trying to shove an unverifiable theory down our throats, and have us just accept it as a fact?
    Why the study? Why Now? For what purpose? To dispel what? Who really was motivated to do this?

  • by wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Thursday October 27, 2016 @08:41AM (#53160547) Homepage

    The claim was not that he created the virus. It was that the virus survived in one or two hosts for years, until it got to someone who had sex with thousands to tens of thousands of unprotected sexual partners.

    People absolutely should be blamed for spreading viruses when they purposely do so, or when they do so through massive negligence.

  • It's interesting and sad that we live in the time of absolute paralyzing fear of being politically incorrect
    We can no longer refer to anyone as having just "AIDS", it has to be HIV, the virus that causes AIDS...
    It's never been "you have paramyxovirus, the virus that causes mumps", it's just "mumps", end of discussion

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