December 01, 2019
“Rare cancer is seen in 41 homosexuals. Outbreak occurs among men in New York and California – 8 died inside 2 years.” It was July 3, 1981, and thus reported “The New York Times” about the appearance of a strange condition that later was baptized as AIDS. Today, this disease has caused the death of some 32 million people, according to Onusida. But, how did it become one of the biggest public health problems? As part of World AIDS Day, let’s analyze in detail its origin and history.
Keep in mind that acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is the most advanced stage of infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which attacks and destroys the body’s immune system.
Science agrees that its origin is in the wild primates of Africa, which are carriers of the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV). A study published in Nature in 1999 identified that three strains of SIV from the chimpanzee subspecies “Pan troglodytes” have many similarities with HIV-1 (one of two types of HIV). The striking thing is that these animals live in equatorial West Africa, a region where the disease is thought to have emerged. Regarding HIV-2, it is known to be related to the SIV of gray mangabey monkeys.
It is very likely that the hunting of these primates and exposure to their infected blood would allow the SIV to enter the human body and – in certain cases – adapt to become HIV.
According to the Biologist Preston Marx of the University of Tulane, the SIV is between 32,000 and 75,000 years old. For the expert, something – still unknown – happened in the twentieth century that boosted the virus, so that it later became the current HIV epidemic.
From Africa to the world
Research published by “Science” details that in 1920 a person infected with HIV arrived in what is today Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). From there, the virus would have traveled to two cities in the southeast of the country. However, the first verified case dates from 1959, also from Kinshasa.
In the 1960s, rail and river transport, the sexual revolution and changes in health care practices made the DRC the ideal area to start the epidemic. Just during that period, several Haitian professionals who went to the DRC to work returned to their country, bringing the virus across the Atlantic, according to the most accepted hypothesis.
The Evolutionist Michael Worobey and the Public Health Historian Richard McKay suggest that around 1969, the HIV jumped from Haiti to New York. But it was not until June 5, 1981, that the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of USA reported five rare cases of pneumonia due to “Pneumocystis carinii” (PCP) in homosexual men – all young men – previously healthy in Los Angeles.
The PCP in the USA was limited to patients with severe immune problems. The appearance in five individuals without any underlying immunodeficiency was clinically unusual. However, PCP cases began to increase, as well as Kaposi’s sarcoma, a tumor also associated with immune system deficiencies.
It was determined that the condition that caused these diseases weakened the body’s defenses. But it was thought that the transmission was sexual and only in homosexuals, so at first, it was called homosexual-related immunodeficiency. However, it was progressively observed in heterosexual couples, heroin users, infants and in patients with hemophilia. In September 1982 the term “AIDS” was coined.
The arrival of HIV/AIDS To Perú
The first case of AIDS in Peru was recorded in 1983. Julio Cachay, Infectious Disease Specialist and Internist at Clínica Ricardo Palma, was an Internist at the Cayetano Heredia Hospital where the patient was admitted.
“The diagnosis was made by Dr. Raúl Patrucco, now deceased. He was a pioneer in the field of immunology. At that time, samples of this type of patient were sent to the USA or France, where tests were performed for accurate identification of the virus”, said Dr. Cachay to El Comercio.
It was a Peruvian male of about 41 years old, who lived in New York. “He came to Peru when he began to feel discomfort: he was losing weight and had a Kaposi’s sarcoma. It was an atypical situation, and at that time in Peru people knew nothing about HIV/AIDS. The patient underwent a supportive treatment: hydration, nourishment and oxygen”, detailed Dr. Cachay.
Dr. Julio Cachay/strong>
Infectious Disease Specialist at Clínica Ricardo Palma