Gaëtan Dugas’ life was short. The Franco-Canadian flight attendant was only 31 years old before he died of AIDS in 1984. And as if that wasn’t tragic enough, he became hysterical early stages of the AIDS pandemic made a scapegoat, “patient 0”. According to countless media reports, Dugas contracted the AIDS pathogen while having sex abroad and spread HIV in the United States.
In fact, in 1984, researchers at the CDC found that Dugas had had sexual contact with at least four of the first 19 AIDS patients in Southern California and another four patients in New York. A total of about 40 of the first 248 AIDS patients in the USA could be linked directly or indirectly to Dugas. But later it turned out: HIV was rampant in the USA much earlier, albeit unnoticed.
Doctors were first taken aback when, within a few months, October 1980 to May 1981, five homosexual patients with an otherwise very rare from Pneumocystis carinii-Bacteria-caused form of pneumonia were admitted to three Los Angeles clinics. The frequent occurrence of this disease in previously healthy men, which is otherwise only observed in extremely immunocompromised patients, is “unusual”, wrote Michael Gottliebwho later also looked after the actor Rock Hudson, who was suffering from AIDS, in the “Weekly report on morbidity and mortality‘ the CDC on June 5, 1981, 42 years ago today. This points to “a connection with aspects of the homosexual lifestyle or a disease acquired through sexual contact”.
Genetic analyzes now show that HIV must have jumped from chimpanzees to humans in Africa between 1884 and 1924. The earliest documented case of HIV infection from preserved blood samples dated on 1959 in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The virus arrived in Haiti in the 1960s and reached the United States no later than 1969-1972, many years before Dugas became ill.
Gaëtan Dugas was just one of more than 32 million AIDS victims worldwide. Like many others, he spread unknowingly a virus to which he eventually succumbed himself. Why he of all people was referred to as “Patient 0” – maybe that was just due to a misunderstanding: Doctors had the Air Canada steward as “Patient O” for “Ooutside Southern California”. Sascha Karberg
Read all the episodes of the “Tagesrückspiegel” column that have been published so far here.
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