History of AIDS

The History of AIDS

The history of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), with timelines, photos, and links to resources on the Internet. Endeavoring to raise public awareness through understanding.

History of AIDS
Sleeping child on mother's lap.
Source: CDC/Dr. Lyle Conrad

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1991: Magic Johnson -- Too Good to be True?

To be infected with HIV is to be HIV-positive, but only when the virus seriously damages the immune system, does one have AIDS. This distinction has been brought home by NBA star Magic Johnson, who tested HIV-positive and retired from LA Laker basketball in 1991, but has yet to develop AIDS. This may confuse some that his AIDS has been cured,

History of AIDS
Graph showing HIV copies and CD4 counts
over course of HIV infection.

Image Source:

but there are no known cures for AIDS. The anti-HIV drugs and medications can only slow down the damage to the immune system. The New Mexico AIDS InfoNet advises its Internet visitors: "AIDS is different in every infected person. Some people die a few months after getting infected, while others live fairly normal lives for many years, even after they 'officially' have AIDS. A few HIV-positive people stay healthy for many years even without taking anti-HIV medications." Source: New Mexico AIDS InfoNet In a November 6, 1991 interview with USA Today, Magic Johnson described his life with HIV. The article pointed out that "a decade ago [1981], the typical length of time from infection to death was eight to 10 years. It was not until the mid-'90s that AIDS drug cocktails that suppress the virus came into wide use." "There's nothing experimental, nothing high-tech," Dr. Michael Mellman, Johnson's personal physician for the previous 20 years, said of Johnson's medication. "Anyone who can afford health care can afford what he's doing." Hattie Babbit, executive director of AIDS Action in Washington, cautioned in the same USA Today article that Magic Johnson's healthy appearance should not give the impression that drugs or drug cocktails are a cure, since anti-HIV drugs "do have side effects, and they tend to lose their effectiveness." Source: USA Today, "Ten years after 'it', Magic Johnson thriving" The HIV disease, i.e., HIV-positive condition, becomes AIDS or "full-blown AIDS," when the immune system becomes so damaged that you have less than 200 CD4+ cells (also known as "T-helper" cells) or if your CD4+ percentage is less than 14%. Source: New Mexico AIDS InfoNet Was Magic Johnson's 1991 success story too good to be true? More than a year later, on January 21, 2003, a story by Alex Polier from the Associated Press, "Magic Johnson Promotes HIV Drug: Ads are geared towards urban blacks," described a "robust-looking" Magic Johnson on billboards in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta, and Newark, N.J. Johnson credited his health to a positive attitude in partnership with his physician, while consistently taking his medication. GlaxoSmithKline noted that a greater number of African-Americans are dying from AIDS than whites and has accordingly focused its marketing on the African-American community. Magic Johnson "takes a combination of GlaxoSmithKline and non-GlaxoSmithKline drugs, including Combivir®, the most commonly prescribed HIV drug and one of GlaxoSmithKline's best sellers." In 2001, with sales of more than $1.1 billion GlaxoSmithKline controlled about 50 percent of the market for anti-HIV drugs, competing against Crixivan® and Stocrin® made by Merck & Co., and Kaletra® and Norvir®, made by Abbott Laboratories. Among blacks ages 24 to 44, AIDS is the leading cause of death. Source: The Enquirer Combivir® is a combination of 300mg of Retrovir® (AZT) and 150mg of Epivir®, which is taken twice daily in conjunction with at least one other anti-HIV drug. Source: AIDSmed.com

1993: Thinking Outside the Box?

Invariably, someone will suggest a conspiracy about the origin of AIDS, and as Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) said to Alice Sutton (Julia Roberts), "A good conspiracy is an unprovable one." Source:
"Conspiracy Theory" (1997) A medical doctor and gay historian, Alan Cantwell, Jr., wrote a book, Queer Blood: The Secret AIDS Genocide Plot, published in 1993, that detailed a genocidal plot by "them" against gays and blacks. Though many younger gays and People With Aids (PWAs) have a greater necessity in coping with today than attempting to understand a theoretical explanation of the now distant past, conspiratorial theorist Cantwell attempted to construct what he saw as a plausible chain of events that would evoke understanding and empathy for the gay community, much as understanding the Holocaust would promote greater compassion and receptivity for the Jewish community. A brief review of Dr. Cantwell's book was given by H. Robert Malinowsky (B.S. geological engineering, M.L.S.), Professor and Principal Bibliographer and Head of Reference at the University of Illinois at Chicago: "There has long been the story that there is a secret gay genocide with the culprit being a genetically engineered virus. Dr. Cantwell was a disbliever in this idea for quite sometime until he started noticing similarities of certain events, when they happened, and how they happened. Although there is no concrete scientific evidence that such a genocide is taking place, there are many questions that have not been answered. Why is it that the AIDS epidemic began at the same time as the hepatitis B vaccine trials in the late 1970s and early 1980s? Why did the African AIDS epidemic begin at the same time as the WHO smallpox eradication vaccine program during the 1970s? The blood specimens of the 1,083 men in the original hepatitis B experiment, as well as the blood of over 10,000 gays screened at that time, it was found that the virus was introduced into the gay community around 1978, the same year that the hepatitis B experiment began. Where did the rumor originate that AIDS is a manufactured virus genetically created to kill off the black race? The unproven belief is that vaccines containing lethal biological agents were injected into the African Blacks and white gays of Manhattan in order to produce a holocaust that would remove two undesirable groups from the earth. Dr. Cantwell goes on to show other similarities and point out other facts that make one wonder if this theory could really be true. One thing that is true is that it is highly unlikely that a Black heterosexual epidemic in Africa could have transformed itself into a white gay disease in America. AIDS first appeared exclusively in young, white, healthy gay men in America. This is a book to be read with an open mind, remembering that there are few concrete facts that support this idea. Nevertheless this is a book and idea to be reckoned with. It is easy to read and takes little time to finish but when finished, you really do not know what to believe, especially if you are a gay male in the midst of the holocaust." Source: AIDS Book Review Journal

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