A recently published study demonstrated that Gaetan Dugas, the man considered to be HIV patient zero, was not single-handedly responsible for the spread of the immunodeficiency virus across the United States. Up until now, for over four decades, Dugas was held accountable for the thousands of AIDS-related deaths registered in the late 1970’s.
Initially, when Dugas was first processed by the CDC, his file was labeled Case 057, implying that he was the 57th person analyzed and diagnosed. However, after a few years, the researchers found that forty men from the study were Californians that related to each other through sexual contact. That led the researchers to add an additional label to his file.
“O” was meant to show that Dugas was Outside of California, but when other investigators started labeling the cases according to their date, the flight attendant ended up being mistaken for patient zero.
The Canadian flight attendant’s reputation also didn’t help, as the man admitted to having had sexual relations with more than 250 different people each year. Randy Shilts, award-winning journalist who also lost the fight with AIDS, portrayed him as a contemptuous socialite who disregarded his doctors’ orders to put a halt to his prolific sexual activity.
The media assimilated the idea of a nefarious Patient Zero bent on infecting the world with the new deadly disease.
Several measures were taken to clear Dugas’ reputation, but until this 2016 study, he remained the man responsible for bringing HIV to the United States.
The new study analyzed serum samples collected from the gay individuals processed by the CDC back in the 1970s and searched the blood for any signs of HIV antibodies. After they had found proof that backed their claims, the men continued the study by searching for blood samples from the same time period in order to construct a history of the virus.
After a strenuous search, they managed to find 53 samples that allowed them to recreate the path of the immunodeficiency virus that took over the gay communities in the 1970s.
The work shows that the first HIV strain was brought in New York from the Caribbean area sometimes in 1970 or 1970, thus exonerating Patient Zero.
Image source: Wikipedia