Monday, June 5,
marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S. government's
report of five cases of Pneumocystis pneumonia
occurring among five Los Angeles gay men, which are now
acknowledged as the world's first officially recorded
AIDS cases. The pneumonia cases were reported in the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
publication "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report."
researchers at the time did not realize that the five gay
men with pneumonia had severe immune system damage
caused by a yet unidentified retrovirus, an editorial
accompanying the case reports provided an eerie
foreshadowing of the nature of HIV disease, which to
date has claimed more than half a million lives in the
United States and more than 25 million worldwide.
"Pneumocystis pneumonia in the United
States is almost exclusively limited to severely
immunosuppressed patients," the editorial states.
"The occurrence of pneumocystosis in these five
previously healthy individuals without a clinically
apparent immunodeficiency is unusual."
In July 1981,
The New York Times published the
world's first mainstream media story on the AIDS
epidemic with a piece titled "Rare Cancer Seen
in 41 Homosexuals," which focused on the
detection of Kaposi's sarcoma among gay men, all of
whom would later be identified as having AIDS. Later
that year the CDC classified the emergence of these
new diseases among gay men as an epidemic, labeling
the syndrome gay-related immune deficiency, or GRID. In
1982, the CDC dropped the term GRID for the
more accurate AIDS--acquired immune
In 1983 U.S.
researcher Robert Gallo and Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur
Institute in Paris identified human immunodeficiency virus
as the cause of AIDS; in 1985 the first HIV antibody
tests were introduced. By the end of 1986--just
five years into the pandemic--more than 42,000 Americans had
been diagnosed with AIDS and nearly 27,000 had died.
In May 1987,
nearly six years into the epidemic, President Ronald Reagan
spoke to Americans about the disease for the first time.
Many AIDS activists believe that the reluctance of the
Reagan administration to adequately address the U.S.
epidemic in its earliest stages helped fuel its rapid
spread among gay men and injection-drug users in the 1980s
estimate that by the 25th anniversary of the first
reported AIDS cases on Monday, more than 1 million
cumulative AIDS cases will have been diagnosed in the
United States and 559,000 Americans will have died of
the disease. The CDC estimates that more than 1 million
Americans are currently living with HIV.
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS estimates that
there are more than 40 million HIV-positive people living in
the world, most in sub-Saharan Africa.
For a thorough
time line of the U.S. AIDS epidemic, visit the Web site of
The Advocate's sister publication, HIV Plus. (The Advocate)