HIV and AIDS – History Of A Pandmic

HIV and AIDS – The history of this threatening virus

For many, the story of HIV and AIDS begins in the early 1980s. In fact, the HI virus is probably 100 years old. And his story has not yet been told.

The HI virus: probably already 100 years old

The first person with HIV could have been a hunter over 100 years ago. Its prey carried an immunodeficiency virus, and it is believed that the hunter became infected through a cut.

The animal-derived virus then evolved into the human immunodeficiency virus HIV. The injured hunter as the first human host – researchers consider this so-called cut-hunter hypothesis to be very likely.

When diseases are transmitted from animals to humans, scientists speak of a spillover. Spillover is not uncommon. It was the case with the bird flu, for example. One can see from this: The transmission happens “in no time at all”.

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A predecessor virus found in chimpanzees

According to current assumptions, HIV spill over to humans occurred at least twelve times. Each of the groups of HIV and AIDS variants known today can be traced back to such an animal-to-human transmission.

The pathogen HIV-1, group M, is responsible for 90 percent of all infections. Beatrice Hahn of the Perelman School of Medicine in Pennsylvania and her team traced it – and found the likely predecessor in a chimpanzee population in Cameroon.

The research group also determined the time of the spillovers. To do this, she analyzed the genetic differences in today’s viruses. She furthermore stated: “Due to the genetic diversity of today’s HIV-1 strands, we can calculate back when the last common predecessor existed. And that was in 1910 plus / minus 20 years.”

The chimpanzee virus, on the other hand, is a mixture of viruses found in redheads and monkeys. Chimpanzees hunt these monkeys.

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First detected HIV infections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

HIV and Aids made its way from southeast Cameroon. At first slowly, not explosively, but from one person to the next. Heading south, first the Sangha River, then along the Congo, until it finally came to Léopoldville, today’s Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Researchers reconstructed the path of propagation. The focus is on two tissue samples preserved in paraffin: ZR59 and DRC60. Both samples are from the Kinshasa area from 1959 and 1960, and both samples are HIV positive.

This makes them the oldest known HIV infections. A genetic analysis of the samples in 2008 showed that the virus had been circulating in Léopoldville for 40 years or more, i.e at least since the 1920s.

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From Central Africa into the world

Between 1920 and 1960, the population of Léopoldville exploded, from around 20,000 to more than 400,000 people. The virus settled here. The main routes of transmission then, as now, included unprotected intimate contacts and reusing syringes and needles without sterilizing them.

Outside Africa, according to researchers, the virus did not establish itself until the 1960s. It first came to Haiti. And because many of the residents of Haiti worked abroad, from there to the western world.

Three early documented fatal AIDS cases include a teenager from Missouri, a Norwegian who went to sea at a young age, and a doctor working in Zaire. Since the attending physicians were so perplexed by these cases at the time, they kept samples from the autopsy. It was later proven that all three were infected with HIV.

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Hysteria breaks out

In the first few years after the disease was discovered, real hysteria broke out. The disease HIV and AIDS became even better known through prominent victims such as Rock Hudson (1985) and later Freddie Mercury or Michael Westphal (both 1991).

The danger posed by HIV / AIDS was completely overestimated in those years. You didn’t know exactly how contagious the disease is and how you could get infected. For example, there was the fear that you could even get infected through mosquito bites.

One of the people who made this fear a political issue was the former, controversial Bavarian Interior Minister Peter Gauweiler. He wanted to contain the disease by all means and, among other things, introduced a compulsory AIDS test for civil service candidates and asylum seekers. There were also raids and conditions for institutions.

AIDS has been described as the “epidemic of lust” and has been seen by some religious fanatics as a just punishment from God for immoral behavior. It had long been known that not only men could be infected.

The hysteria at the time contributed significantly to the stigmatization of those infected with HIV. Although we now know that the virus is difficult to transmit, people infected with HIV are still discriminated against. Infections classified as harmless by the population, such as the flu (influenza), are much more infectious and deadly.

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HIV fear

The fear of HIV and AIDS has many facets. Many people have an exaggerated fear of becoming infected with the disease. Others, on the other hand, do not even want to know whether they have contracted HIV and do not take a test.

The diagnosis is made at a late stage, when rare diseases appear. Then there are the people who are afraid of the test even though they weren’t exposed to any risk. And of course, HIV-positive people fear exclusion and discrimination.

The hysteria of the 1980s played its part in the fact that many people today have unfounded fear of becoming infected with HIV. The fear of contracting HIV has reached frightening proportions and in most cases is completely unfounded.

Urine, saliva, or tears from HIV positive people are not contagious. Not dealing with HIV-positive people on a daily basis anyway. Sneezing, coughing, sharing plates, glasses, cutlery: none of this is contagious! Using the same toilet, going to the pool, sharing towels and sheets: no, it’s not contagious.

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Guilt caused a phobia against HIV

Often the guilty conscience causes people to develop an HIV and AIDS phobia. The guilty conscience of putting yourself at risk in a weak moment. Once you’ve gotten into your phobia, it’s hard to get out. It takes six to twelve weeks before you can do a test to rule out an infection. And this time can be extremely distressing and very stressful.

People diagnosed with HIV infection fear isolation, marginalization, and stigma. And unfortunately you experience this again and again, which is why only few people deal with it openly. It should be common knowledge that HIV infection is no longer a death sentence.

The life expectancy of HIV-positive people is almost normal with the treatment currently available. HIV positive people who are treated effectively are not contagious. You can even have unprotected sex without infecting someone with HIV. Under what circumstances this should be done is another question; medical advances continue and one can hope that treatment options will continue to improve over the next few decades.

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AIDS was perceived as being homosexual-related

Another well-known case from the 1970s is Canadian flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, sometimes mistakenly referred to as Patient Zero. During this time, the civil rights movement in the USA was followed by “gay migration” – the migration of gays.

Dugas was homosexual and claims to have had more than 2,500 sexual partners. The rapid spread of the virus in the gay scene ultimately led to the discovery of the disease. That is why it is initially referred to as gay-related immune deficiency, i.e. homosexuality-related immune deficiency, or GRID for short.

The current name AIDS, on the other hand, stands for acquired immune deficiency syndrome: the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Research into a vaccine has been going on since the 1980s – so far without success. Because it mutates very quickly.

For example, more different virus variants develop in the body of an HIV-positive person than flu variants worldwide each year.

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Continuous search for therapy

After all, effective drug therapies could be developed – HIV no longer means a death sentence. It is still considered incurable, but with the right therapy, the viral load in the body of infected people can be kept below the detection limit.

Vaccines, bone marrow transplants or the ethically controversial use of gene scissors for HIV immunity – the search for a cure continues. This is also a race against time, because the longer the fight against HIV and AIDS lasts, the greater the likelihood that the virus will develop resistance to existing therapies.

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Dear Co- Creators

I hope this article about HIV and AIDS was interesting for you. Make sure to stop by next week to read more about the virus itself, symptoms, who’s mostly at risk, prevention and different treatment options. Feel free to share any related stories or questions with us below in the comment section.

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