In the earliest days of the epidemic doctors and nurses could offer little but compassion for patients whose immune systems collapsed from a virus that didn’t even have a name. (Photo courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society)

Sunday will mark the 30th anniversary of the first official notice of the virus that would soon become known as HIV. In 2006, for the 25th anniversary, The American Journal of Public Health reprinted the original report from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can read that report here. It starts like this:

In the period October 1980–May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died. All 5 patients had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candidal mucosal infection. Case reports of these patients follow.

After the description of the five cases, the report closes with this:

The diagnosis of Pneumocystis pneumonia was confirmed for all 5 patients ante-mortem by closed or open lung biopsy. The patients did not know each other and had no known common contacts or knowledge of sexual partners who had had similar illnesses. The 5 did not have comparable histories of sexually transmitted disease. Four had serologic evidence of past hepatitis B infection but had no evidence of current hepatitis B surface antigen. Two of the 5 reported having frequent homosexual contacts with various partners. All 5 reported using inhalant drugs, and 1 reported parenteral drug abuse…

Today, some 30 years later, MMWR published this report, called “HIV Surveillance — United States, 1981–2008,” which breaks down the number of HIV cases in the U.S. by age, sex, race and transmission category (men to men, heterosexual, etc.). The report also recaps the spread of the disease and publishes this statistic:

“At the end of 2008, an estimated 1,178,350 persons aged ≥13 years were living with HIV infection, including 236,400 (20.1%) whose infections had not been diagnosed.”

  • dsinla

    View the Award winning documentary “House of Numbers” to see why questions about this must be raised, and why deeper issues about HIV and AIDS need to be discussed. Lives are at risk. This is the first documentary,with the worlds
    foremost authorities, that highlights the fundamental problems with HIV
    testing, science, and statistics. It sheds new light on a misunderstood
    phenomenon for which there is still no cure. GO to – to see the trailer.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks is an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix.  He also writes about film for KQED Arts.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor