MRS. SUSAN MCCULLUM
AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is related to HIV, but they are not one in the same. A person has AIDS only in the final stages of HIV, after the immune system becomes unable to defend itself against foreign bacteria, other viruses, and fungi, and allows for the development of certain cancers. The world first became aware of AIDS in the early 1980s. Growing numbers of gay men in New York and California were developing rare types of pneumonia and cancer, and a wasting disease was spreading in Uganda. Doctors reported AIDS symptoms under different names, including “gay-related immune deficiency” and “slim,” but by 1985, they reported them all over the world.
From the first days of the AIDS epidemic, the history of HIV has been one of stigma and activism as well as science. The people with AIDS and the healthcare officials advising the public didn’t know what the disease was or how it was transmitted. This confusion, and the speed with which the disease spread, led to an “epidemic of fear” and to discrimination against those with HIV to be more at risk.
We now know that HIV existed long before it was identified as the cause of AIDS in 1984. Blood analysis reveals instances of the virus as early as the 1940s. While researchers aren’t sure exactly when and how HIV developed, the most likely theories posit that HIV-1 – the most common strain of the virus – was transmitted to humans from chimpanzees sometime in the early to mid-20th century.
In 1985, the first blood test for HIV was approved. In 1986, AZT, a failed cancer drug, was tested as an HIV treatment for the first time. The trial was so successful that researchers stopped the study.
AZT was the only AIDS treatment through much of the 90s. In 1996, doctors started to prescribe combinations of medications, including new protease inhibitors, to control HIV. These “cocktails” were a treatment breakthrough, offering much brighter