Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

HIV arrived in the U.S. long before 'Patient Zero'

Ga?tan Dugas was accused of spreading HIV to dozens of men.

Ga?tan Dugas was accused of spreading HIV to dozens of men.

In the tortuous mythology of the AIDS epidemic, one legend never seems to die: Patient Zero, aka Gaétan Dugas, a globe-trotting, sexually insatiable French Canadian flight attendant who supposedly picked up HIV in Haiti or Africa and spread it to dozens, even hundreds, of other men before his death in 1984.

But after a new genetic analysis of stored blood samples, bolstered by some intriguing historical detective work, scientists on Wednesday declared him innocent.

The strain of HIV responsible for almost all AIDS cases in the United States, which was carried from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, spread from there to New York City around 1971, researchers concluded in the journal Nature. From New York, it spread to San Francisco around 1976.

The new analysis shows that Dugas' own blood, sampled in 1983, contained a viral strain already infecting men in New York before he began visiting gay bars here after being hired by Air Canada in 1974.

Myths like that of Patient Zero echo in prevention efforts even today, experts said. Many vulnerable groups, including young gay men and African women, fail to use protective drugs or avoid testing because they fear being stigmatized or accused of being carriers.

Reflecting on the epidemic's early days, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, then a doctor treating AIDS patients and now the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he remembered it seeming plausible at the time that one person was responsible.

In hindsight, he added, the idea now seems absurd. "We were unaware of how widespread it was in Africa," Fauci said.

The new data are consistent with the scenario described in 2011 in The Origins of AIDS, by Dr. Jacques Pépin, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. Relying on previous genetic research and African colonial records, Pépin showed that HIV was carried from Kinshasa to Haiti in the 1960s.

The blood samples analyzed in the new study were collected in 1978 and 1979 in New York and San Francisco as part of an effort to make a hepatitis B vaccine.

HIV arrived in the U.S. long before 'Patient Zero' 10/26/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 26, 2016 9:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, New York Times.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Whitman: Hollywood whitewashing raises questions about Jesus' depiction

    Religion

    I grew up believing in white Jesus.

    A painting on my grandma's wall depicted a blonde, blue-eyed Christ.

  2. Special sorority seeks ways to help their Green Berets and themselves during St. Leo summit

    War

    ST. LEO — Julie Huynh-Rusk lies down on the floor of a St. Leo University conference room, covered by a blanket and a pink eye-pillow.

    Julie Huynh-Rusk, 31, of Seattle, takes advantage of a meditation session at Saint Leo University on Wednesday as part of the Steel Mags Summer Summit. 
The Steel Mags Sorority was founded to help spouses, daughters, mothers, and sisters of  Green Berets. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]

  3. Watch: Sarasota vlogger goes on viral rant against MTV's 'Siesta Key'

    Blogs

    Looking forward to MTV’s Siesta Key? Well, this Florida native definitely is not.

    Vlogger Louie Carey posted his reaction to MTV's "Siesta Key" in a viral video.
  4. On the Camino de Santiago, Day 23: Of tiny towns, wonderful naps and dreamlike ice cream bars

    Travel

    Day 23: Murias de Rechivaldo to Foncebadon: 20.8 km, 6 hours. Total for Days 1-23 = 541 km (336 miles)

  5. Where Tampa's national championship ranks among the greatest games ever

    Blogs

    If you needed any more convincing that Tampa's national championship at Raymond James Stadium was one of the best games in college football history, let me direct you to