Erin Matheson ‘18

Science Columnist

AIDS has raised many questions but given very few answers. For years, people thought that a flight attendant named Gaetan Dugas was responsible for spreading AIDS in the United States however, new information from the scientific journal Nature has debunked that urban legend.

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Researchers at the University of Arizona genetically sequenced HIV virus from Dugas and eight other men infected with HIV early on in the 1970s. The full-genome ‘snapshot’ provides strong evidence for its emergence from a pre-existing Caribbean epidemic. From analysis of the genetic codes, the scientists estimate HIV came to the U.S. from Haiti in 1970 or 1971. The viral infection was undetected for years and spread to New York City around 1971 and to San Francisco around 1976.

The new analysis shows that Mr. Dugas’s blood, sampled in 1983, contained a viral strain already infecting men in New York. He was not, nor ever was intended to be “Patient Zero”. Dugas participated in an early epidemiological study of cases where he was designated Patient O, for “outside Southern California,” where the study began. The ambiguous zero or O was interpreted as a zero and began the false phenomena that the epidemic could be placed on one man.

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The idea that one person could have started the epidemic has stigmatized the AIDS disease. Many people do not want to come out and share that they too are HIV positive. Hopefully after these interesting findings, the public perception and preventive care will improve. It makes you wonder what scientific story they will debunk next.