Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) (cont.)

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What is the history of HIV?

Although HIV infection is only a recent discovery, scientists have shown that HIV-1 may have spread to humans over 100 years ago. The likely source was primate-to-human transmission through bites or blood exposure, with chimpanzees being the most likely candidate for HIV-1 transmission to humans.

Isolated human cases existed long before HIV infection came to the attention of the physicians. It is not entirely clear what caused HIV to begin to spread more widely in the mid-20th century. HIV was identified in tissue preserved from patients who died as early as 1959. In the late 1960s or early 1970s, it is thought that HIV infection spread to Haiti and then to the United States. Entering the homosexual male community predominately, the virus began to spread among people with multiple sexual partners. Over time, often a decade after infection, people with HIV infection began to get unusual infections, develop AIDS, and die.

In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first took note of a cluster of pneumonia causes by Pneumocystis jirovecii (formerly known as Pneumocystis carinii), which was a highly unusual pathogen to find in young men. Affected individuals were noted to have depleted counts of a specific type of immune cell, known as the CD-4 T cell. Subsequent investigation revealed that homosexual men with multiple partners were most likely to have disease, suggesting that sexual activity was a key factor in transmission. Soon, scientists discovered the disease in people injecting illicit drugs, in heterosexuals with multiple sexual partners, in people who received blood products, and in babies born to infected mothers. A global effort was undertaken to identify the virus, leading to the description of HIV as the likely cause of AIDS by Dr. Luc Montagnier in France and by Dr. Robert Gallo in the United States. A test for HIV was soon developed and used to diagnose individuals and to ensure the safety of the blood supply.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/3/2014

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