Thirty-three years doesn’t sound like that long ago, and it isn’t.
But exactly 33 years ago, a medical crisis was just beginning to surface in New York and San Francisco that would eventually be called HIV/AIDS.
On July 3rd, 1981, the New York Times ran a troubling story about a “rare cancer” called Karposi’s Sarcoma that had doctors baffled.
Here’s some of what they thought at the time:
- “there is as yet no evidence of contagion”
- “The cancer often causes swollen lymph glands, and then kills by spreading throughout the body.”
- “Doctors investigating the outbreak believe that many cases have gone undetected because of the rarity of the condition and the difficulty even dermatologists may have in diagnosing it.”
- “In the United States, it has primarily affected men older than 50 years.”
- “the reporting doctors said that most cases had involved homosexual men who have had multiple and frequent sexual encounters with different partners, as many as 10 sexual encounters each night up to four times a week.”
- “Dr. Curran said there was no apparent danger to nonhomosexuals from contagion.”
Though answers soon came to these puzzling and heartbreaking conditions, it’s interesting to see that doctors had all the pieces in front of them, but just didn’t know how to fit them together.
At the very end of the article, the author reports that:
Dr. Friedman-Kien emphasized that the researchers did not know whether the immunological defects were the underlying problem or had developed secondarily to the infections or drug use.
It’s a haunting reminder of how far we’ve come and what our community has had to endure in a relatively very short amount of time.
To put in into perspective, thirty-three years ago today we would have given anything to know what we know now.