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HIV Epidemic Started Spreading in 1970: Study Shows

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Health Desk,28 October'16 :

A new genetic study confirms that the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS started in New York around 1970, and it also clears the name of a gay flight attendant long vilified as being "Patient Zero."

Researchers got hold of frozen samples of blood taken from patients years before the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS was ever recognized, and teased out genetic material from the virus from that blood.

They use it to show that HIV was circulating widely during the 1970s, and certainly before people began noticing a "gay plague" in New York in the early 1980s.

"HIV had spread to a large number of people many years before AIDS was noticed."

Their findings also suggest HIV moved from New York to San Francisco in about 1976, they report in the journal Nature.

A new genetic study confirms theories that the global epidemic of HIV and AIDS started in New York around 1970, and it also clears the name of a gay flight attendant long vilified as being "Patient Zero."

Researchers got hold of frozen samples of blood taken from patients years before the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS was ever recognized, and teased out genetic material from the virus from that blood.

They use it to show that HIV was circulating widely during the 1970s, and certainly before people began noticing a "gay plague" in New York in the early 1980s.

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"We can date the jump into the U.S. in about 1970 and 1971," Michael Worobey, an expert on the evolution of viruses at the University of Arizona, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

"HIV had spread to a large number of people many years before AIDS was noticed."

Their findings also suggest HIV moved from New York to San Francisco in about 1976, they report in the journal Nature.

Image: A laboratory technician examines blood samples for HIV/AIDS in a public hospital in Valparaiso city

 

A laboratory technician examines blood samples for HIV Eliseo Fernandez / Reuters, file

"New York City acts as a hub from which the virus moves to the west coast," Worobey said.

"HIV HAD SPREAD TO A LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE MANY YEARS BEFORE AIDS WAS NOTICED."

Their findings confirm widespread theories that HIV first leapt from apes to humans in Africa around the beginning of the 20th century and circulated in central Africa before hitting the Caribbean in the 1960s. The genetic evidence supports the theory that the virus came from the Caribbean, perhaps Haiti, to New York in 1970. From there it spread explosively before being exported to Europe, Australia and Asia.

HIV now infects more than 36 million people worldwide. About 35 million have died from AIDS, according to theUnited Nations AIDS agency. Two million are infected every year and more than 1 million died of it last year.

Related: New HIV Vaccine Will be Tested in South Africa

In the United States, more than 1.2 million people have HIV, and about 50,000 people are newly infected each year. More than two dozen medications now on the market can keep infected people healthy, and can prevent infection, but there is no vaccine and there is no cure.

Researchers now know a lot about HIV and how it attacks the body's immune cells, gradually destroying the immune system. It takes about 10 years or so for untreated and undiagnosed patients to realize something is badly wrong as they develop AIDS-defining illnesses such as Kaposi's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, or pneumonia, or as they succumb to tuberculosis.