LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) – Quammen traced the history of AIDS by examining genetic samples from humans and chimps. He believes that the birthplace of the epidemic was the southeastern edge of Cameroon sometime around 1908.
A conceptual view of HIV in the bloodstream. Since 1981, about 78 million people have been infected by HIV.
His theory is that a hunter in the Cameroon rainforest was infected with a immunodeficiency virus similar to HIV by a chimp he killed and butchered.
The hunter, the true “Patient Zero” in this case, likely infected at least one other person through sex and the virus continued to make its way down the Sangha River in that matter until it reached the city of Leopoldville, which is now Kinshasa in the Congo.
The virus then spread even faster via the continued practice of reusing hypodermic syringes at health clinics.
Treatment for a common ailment in the area at the time required 36 injections over three years and most needles were used repeatedly.
The book claims AIDS originated in Cameroon around 1908 and spread down the Sangha River before reaching Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo, sometime in the 1910s or 1920s.
“Once the reusable needles and syringes had put the virus into enough people – say, several hundred – it wouldn’t come to a dead end, it wouldn’t burn out, and sexual transmission could do the rest,” Quammen writes.
French-speaking Haitians who were working in the Congo went home after Belgium gave up the colony in 1950. “Someone brought back to Haiti, along with Congolese memories, a dose of HIV-1, Group M, Subtype B.”
The re-use of needles allowed the virus to spread in Haiti and an infected person or infected container of blood plasma likely brought AIDS to America “in 1969, plus or minus about three years.
“It reached hemophiliacs through the blood supply,” Quammen writes. It reached drug addicts through shared needles. It reached gay men . by sexual transmission, possibly from an initial contact between two males, an American and a Haitian.”
It was previously theorized that the virus could have been brought to the U.S. by a gay Air Canada steward named Gaetan Dugas.
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“Dugas himself was infected by some other human, presumably during a sexual encounter – and not in Africa . somewhere closer to home. As evidence now shows, HIV had already arrived in North America when Gaetan Dugas was a virginal adolescent.”
Thirty-nine million people worldwide have died of the AIDS virus, according to UN estimates.