In the 1980s and early 1990s, the outbreak of HIV and AIDS swept across the United States and rest of the world, though the disease originated decades earlier.
The human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, is a virus that attacks the immune system, specifically CD4 cells (or T cells). The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids such as blood, semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, and breast milk.
istorically, HIV has most often been spread through unprotected sex, the sharing of needles for drug use, and through birth.
Over time, HIV can destroy so many CD4 cells that the body can’t fight infections and diseases, eventually leading to the most severe form of an HIV infection: acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, or AIDS
A person with AIDS is very vulnerable to cancer and to life-threatening infections, such as pneumonia.
Scientists have traced the origin of HIV back to chimpanzees and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), an HIV-like virus that attacks the immune system of monkeys and apes.
In 1999, researchers identified a strain of chimpanzee SIV called SIVcpz, which was nearly identical to HIV.
Chimps, the scientist later discovered, hunt and eat two smaller species of monkeys—red-capped mangabeys and greater spot-nosed monkeys—that carry and infect the chimps with two strains of SIV
two strains likely combined to form SIVcpz, which can spread between chimpanzees and humans.
SIVcpz likely jumped to humans when hunters in Africa ate infected chimps, or the chimps’ infected blood got into the cuts or wounds of hunters.
Researchers believe the first transmission of SIV to HIV in humans that then led to the global pandemic occurred in 1920 in Kinshasa
The virus spread may have spread from Kinshasa along infrastructure routes (roads, railways, and rivers) via migrants and the sex trade.
n the 1960s, HIV spread from Africa to Haiti and the Caribbean when Haitian professionals in the colonial Democratic Republic of Congo returned home.
The virus then moved from the Caribbean to New York City around 1970 and then to San Francisco later in the decade.
Though HIV arrived in the United States around 1970, it didn’t come to the public’s attention until the early 1980s.
In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report about five previously healthy homosexual men becoming infected with Pneumocystis pneumonia,
The following year, The New York Times published an alarming article about the new immune system disorder, which, by that time, had affected 335 people, killing 136 of them
Because the disease appeared to affect mostly homosexual men, officials initially called it gay-related immune deficiency, or GRID.
Though the CDC discovered all major routes of the disease’s transmission—as well as that female partners of AIDS-positive men could be infected—in 1983, the public considered AIDS a gay disease. It was even called the “gay plague” for many years after.
In September of 1982, the CDC used the term AIDS to describe the disease for the first time. By the end of the year, AIDS cases were also reported in a number of European countries.