Patient Zero in HIV Crisis Has Never Existed, Study Says
The man blamed for bringing HIV to the United States just had his name cleared.
Newly published research is rewriting the earliest chapter of the historical account of how the AIDS epidemic began in the United States after genetically sequencing blood samples from people infected by the virus — and found Gaëtan Dugas, a French-Canadian flight attendant who was dubbed “Patient Zero”, was wrongly blamed for the outbreak.
The team of researchers from the University of Arizona analyzed thousands of blood samples collected in San Francisco and New York during the late 1970s. They found that the virus came to the country from the Caribbean sometime around 1970, with New York City as the location of the initial outbreak – not San Francisco as originally thought.
“This early, full-genome ‘snapshot’ reveals that the US HIV-1 epidemic exhibited extensive genetic diversity in the 1970s but also provides strong evidence for its emergence from a pre-existing Caribbean epidemic,” according to the study published this week in the journal Nature.
Dugas and his family were condemned for years. In Randy Shilts’ seminal book on the AIDS crisis, “And The Band Played On,” Dugas is referenced extensively
In 1987, the National Review referred to him as the “Columbus of AIDS,” and the New York Post called him “the man who gave us AIDS” on its front page.
“We were quite annoyed by that, because it was just simply wrong, but this doesn’t stop people from saying it, because it’s so appealing. You know, ‘The man who brought us AIDS.’ Well, if it were true, it would be annoying, but since it isn’t true, it’s even more annoying,” said Dr. James Curran, dean of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and co-director of the university’s Center for AIDS Research.