AIDS anniversary

On June 5th, 1981, the Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published the first report of AIDS. Entitled ‘5 cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP)’, it included case studies of five previously healthy young men, all homosexuals, who had been treated for PCP, a lung condition normally seen only in severely immunosuppressed patients. Since the five young men had no clinically apparent underlying immunodeficiency, their sexuality led clinicians to speculate an association between their homosexual lifestyle and the occurrence of PCP among their population.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the report. In the days after its release, additional case reports emerged from other cities across the United States, including New York City and San Francisco. The following month, an investigative team was set up by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to try and identify risk factors for the condition. Within two years, epidemiologists had conducted studies and prepared MMWR reports that identified all of the major risks factors for AIDS.

A history of AIDS


First cases of AIDS detected among gay men in the United States.


AIDS is reported in several European countries. The name “AIDS” (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) is coined.


HIV is identified as the cause of AIDS.


AIDS is detected in China, making it seen in all regions of the world.


The first drug for treating AIDS, azidothymidine, is approved.


UNAIDS is established.


Combination antiretroviral treatment is proven effective against HIV.


Trials find first HIV vaccine candidate ineffective.


South Africa begins providing free antiretroviral treatment.


President Barack Obama removes the travel ban preventing HIV+ people from entering USA.

The term AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and is used to describe the late stage of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids and attacks the body’s immune system by destroying the cells in our blood that are responsible for fighting infection. As a result, the immune system stops working, predisposing the individual to infection. AIDS occurs when the individual develops a life-threatening condition such as PCP, which proved fatal for two of the five men in the first report.

Though AIDS only surfaced in 1981, the disease probably existed unrecognized for many years prior, having transferred to humans in Africa at some point in the late 19th or early 20th century. In the thirty years since, what started as five unusual cases has grown into an epidemic with devastating effects. Although much has been done to communicate the risks of HIV transmission, according to the latest figures from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), almost 60 million people have been infected with HIV and 25 million people have died of HIV-related causes. Sub-Saharan Africa is worst affected; the continent is home to 67% of all people living with HIV worldwide and 91% of all new infections among children. More than 14 million children have been orphaned as a result of the epidemic.

There is currently no cure for HIV, and no vaccine to prevent infection. Last month, the International AIDS Society (IAS) called for greater investment of time and money into HIV research, in the hope of developing a cure. The society has put together a panel of international experts, co-chaired by French virologist Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who co-discovered HIV in 1983. The panel is expected to produce a draft report by the end of the year. With infection rates rising, let’s hope AIDS research receives the funding it needs.

This post was written by Thea Cunningham. For more great articles, visit her blog at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *