HIV and the ‘Patient Zero’ Who Wasn’t

The man blamed for the HIV pandemic in the West has finally been exonerated by scientists, who have been able to reconstruct the actual route taken by HIV and AIDS when it arrived in the United States.

 An international research team used sophisticated genetic techniques to reveal that the virus actually came from the Caribbean, where a pre-existing pandemic was already underway, arriving in New York during the early 1970s and spreading west across the rest of the country.

 The research offers final confirmation that French-Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas, who was dubbed “Patient Zero” in a 1984 study of gay men diagnosed with AIDS, was not in fact the first person to be infected in the United States. Dugas was subsequently characterised as irresponsible and promiscuous by author Randy Shilts, who named him in 1987 and claimed he played an important role in the spread of the virus throughout the United States.

 However, the new analysis of the HIV genome in Dugas, who died in 1984 after helping with studies into whether the virus was transmitted sexually, has shown it not to be the root of the virus’s diversification in North America, but simply a typical strain of the HIV virus that was already present in the United States. The authors of the study say that the findings tally with a large body of already existing evidence, which exonerates Dugas from culpability in the history of HIV’s spread in the US.

 The importance of AIDS testing

 HIV testing is a matter of great importance, as not only is it a vital issue in terms of personal health, but also in preventing the spread of the infection to others. In addition to this, although there is no cure for HIV at present, there are many treatments available today that can serve to lessen the severity of its effects, making it all the more important to positively identify HIV if you believe you may be at risk.

 HIV testing for older people

 Older people may wonder if there is any need for them to undergo testing, but the answer is a definite yes. Research has demonstrated that in more than 15% of positive HIV cases, those infected were older people who believed that they had nothing to worry about with regard to their sexual activity. This erroneous belief has resulted in a number of otherwise preventable cases, so older people do need to consider getting tested.

 Adolescent HIV testing

 Adolescents seem to be engaging in sexual activity much earlier in life, with the average age being thirteen, although there are even cases of children aged ten or under being involved in sexual activity, making them another factor in the importance of HIV testing. Many adolescents are also engaging in sexual acts with more than one partner, further increasing the danger of exposure to sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. It is important that sexual education teach youngsters not only how to make use of protection, but also the importance of undergoing regular tests, for the sake of their own health as well as the health of others.

 Prevention

 Having a sexual relationship with one partner, ending the relationship, and then immediately launching into a sexual relationship with a new partner is one of the biggest yet most commonplace mistakes that many people make regarding their sexual health. The failure to undergo a test for sexually transmitted infections between sexual relationships with different partners has caused a chain reaction, resulting in many people being unnecessarily infected with HIV.

 People may also believe that they cannot be infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections because they always use a condom during sexual intercourse. The bad news, however, is that while condoms can be very helpful in preventing unwanted pregnancies, if not used correctly they may not always stop such infections from being transmitted. Condoms are the most reliable method of preventing STIs, but using them does not mean people never need to be tested.

 HIV testing is of vital importance, not only to the lives of those being tested but to the lives of their sexual partners and those that they care about.