Patient Zero: The Myth of the First HIV Case Debunked
Remember “Patient Zero” Gaëtan Dugas, the flight attendant who supposedly brought AIDS to the United States? New evidence shows he was not Patient Zero after all.
Gaëtan Dugas, who died from AIDs in 1984, was a Canadian who worked for Air Canada as a flight attendant. In March 1984, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study tracking the sexual liaisons and practices of gay and bisexual men in California, New York, and some other states found Dugas to be the center of a network of sexual partners, which led to his being dubbed “patient zero.”
Decades of suspicions that he initially brought HIV to North America have now been proven to be false. via the NY Times
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 H.I.V. in Haiti or Africa and spread it to dozens, even hundreds, of other men before his death in 1984.
Mr. Dugas was once blamed for sparking the entire American AIDS epidemic, which traumatized the nation in the 1980s and has since killed more than 500,000 Americans. The New York Post even ran a picture of him under the headline “The Man Who Gave Us AIDS.”
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 H.I.V. 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 Mr. Dugas’s 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.