HIV/AIDS in United States

“AIDS is from America”

Paris. Circa 1986.  I was sitting in a hotel lobby, talking with some European and African people about AIDS. The Africans said everyone in Africa thinks AIDS comes from Europe. The Europeans said people in Europe think AIDS is from America.  I said that most Americans think AIDS comes from Africa.  Everyone laughed.

The opinion of the Europeans and Africans was supported by much of the medical literature before 1985.  Essentially, before the African monkey narrative took hold, the United States was recognized as the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.  The perspective that AIDS is from America was portrayed throughout the medical literature of the time. Continue reading

Phylogenetic Study claims HIV Migrated from Africa through Haiti to USA

As mentioned in the previous post [1], the Patient Zero meme instigated by the findings of Worobey et al cascaded through the general, medical, and scientific media alike. Trends in Microbiology published an editorial praising the work of Worobey et al for dispelling the Patient Zero myth, and also highlighting Worobey’s conclusion that HIV migrated to the USA from Africa via Haiti [2, 3].

The editorial supported the Africa-Haiti origin concept by listing three “plausible scenarios” for the migration of HIV from the Caribbean (i.e., Haiti) to the USA HIV transmission from Haiti to the USA [2]:

     (1) Caribbean immigrants;

     (2) American sex tourists; and

     (3) contaminated commercial blood products.

     In our view, these “plausible scenarios” should be treated more cautiously and the possibility that HIV migrated from the USA to Haiti should be treated more seriously.  Haiti got all the press, but 5 years into the AIDS epidemic (1986), Bermuda that had the highest AIDS rate in the world, as seen in Table 1. Continue reading

Patient Zero did not introduce HIV into the United States!

Not too long ago, this story was a meme cascading through the media. All emanating from a phylogenetic analysis published in Nature, 1970s and ‘Patient 0’ HIV-1 genomes illuminate early HIV/AIDS history in North America [1].

The authors of this phylogenetic analysis (Worobey et al) also concluded that HIV migrated to the USA from Africa via Haiti. However, extensive epidemiological evidence suggests the Africa-Haiti-USA historical narrative is just as incorrect as the narrative regarding Patient Zero.

Stuart Derbyshire and I wrote a Letter to the Editors of Nature in response to conclusions of Worobey et al. At the kind invitation of the Editors, our response is posted on the Nature website. (Update:  Our comment is now available only to paid subscribers of Nature). Given the allowance of 300 words and 3 references, the response cites a limited portion of available epidemiological data refuting this concept. Alternately, the response containing the full complement of 13 references is posted below.

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blog_logoAs principal investigator at the Harvard School of Public Health, Max Essex, was recently awarded $20 million to study HIV prevention in Botswana – a meager reward for the man who played a pivotal role in creating the current conceptual model of the HIV / AIDS epidemic, compared to the billions distributed annually [1].

Essex’s erroneous research spawned the theory that HIV originated in African monkeys. This misconception is critical because the concept is a pillar for the fallacy that HIV / AIDS is endemic in Africa. Continue reading

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Recently, a web page of National Public Radio stated “AIDS is the primary killer of African-Americans ages 19 to 44 years of age.”   This misconception is evidently a common one. For example, Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, had broadcast the same belief previously, i.e., “AIDS remains the leading cause of death in African-American women in the USA.” [1]  Neither statement is accurate.

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