ORIGIN STORY

The Myth Of “Patient Zero” Is Finally Laid To Rest

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Thirty-two years after his death in 1984, Gaétan Dugas remains a legendary figure in the story of the AIDS epidemic. For years, he occupied a space in the popular imagination as the man who brought the virus to the U.S. But as the New York Times reports, yesterday the the myth of “Patient Zero” was finally laid to rest.

“The strain of H.I.V. responsible for almost all AIDS cases in the United States, which was carried from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, spread from there to New York City around 1971, researchers concluded in the journal Nature. From New York, it spread to San Francisco around 1976,” according to the Times. “The new analysis shows that Mr. Dugas’s blood, sampled in 1983, contained a viral strain already infecting men in New York before he began visiting gay bars here after being hired by Air Canada in 1974.”

Dugas became a figure of myth thanks in part to journalist Randy Shilts’s influential 1987 book And The Band Played On, in which Shilts painted Dugas as a beautiful and callous blonde French Canadian libertine, a flight attendant who traveled from city to city carelessly and knowingly infecting his sexual partners–Dugas himself boasted of sleeping with over 200 men each year–with what was then called “gay cancer.” Shilts, who died in 1994, himself admitted that his publishers sensationalized “Patient Zero” to drum up publicity for the book.

But even Dugas’s designation as “Patient Zero” seems to have been an exaggeration. Dugas was initially designated “Patient O,” as in “outside Southern California,” the capital letter O eventually being misread as the number zero.

Meanwhile, according to one of the Nature paper’s authors, Dugas’s friends described a very different, more sympathetic man–descriptions that were absent from Shilts’s account.

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48 Comments

  • JerseyMike

    AIDS is a man made disease. No one is trying to stop it. There is no profit in a cure.

  • Xzamilloh

    This was known for years that AIDS had been discovered in the US long before the 80s… but even with the recent stories being published that exonerate “Patient Zero”, this is gonna be a persistent myth for even more years to come.

  • adamnfool

    @JerseyMike:

    1) Maybe factcheck websites would do a better service by employing people to fan out across the interwebs to supply links to relevant material in user comment sections.

    2) We don’t have the technology now to create such a virus, let alone >35 years ago.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retrovirus

    Your mission if you choose to accept it is to read and understand every word in that link.
    If you intend to postulate the ability to create a virus, you should know what exactly one is right?

  • adamnfool

    You are making deductive reasoning based on your life experiences and mistrust of society.

    But things exist in the universe apart from any intervention of humans. They really do.

    Look at your hand as you type. The skin layer is a formed by millions of individual microscopic cells, each containing a copy of your genome, which is formed of millions of basepairs of code. Viruses are interesting things. They can’t propagate without another organism. They use an infected cells machinery to create more of its own dna code and an outer shell for it to travel. It’s ridiculously complicated stuff and all so very tiny.

    No one can do what you’ve suggested. Please take the time to read the link. Don’t be afraid of knowledge, it can only help inform your viewpoint if you are correct.

  • adamnfool

    Okay. I’m off the web for today. 4realsies.

  • Russell1947

    Having worked in a hospital in Northern NJ all through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, I can tell you that one of the nurses I knew saw what she told me she was sure was a case in 1976 in Newark. A woman whose husband was an IV drug abuser. He had left her, probably (unknowingly) spreading it to others. The physicians/nurses were stymied, had no clue what it was.

    My hospital, in the late 80’s was the 1st in N NJ to start an AIDS unit. Being out, I was asked to serve on the committee, & I worked there along with my regular job, from 1988 till it was no longer the feared disease (Thanks Reagan) it 1st was.

    None of my coworkers gave any credence to the Patient Zero idea. It was totally ridiculous to even consider it.

  • Celtic

    @JerseyMike: I am not so sure AIDS is man-made, as you assert. However, I agree there is no real desire to find a cure (and, I suspect there may be one already) because of the huge amounts of money HIV brings in to the drug companies.

  • GLF

    Call y’all stop feeding the troll please.

  • dwes09

    @JerseyMike: “AIDS is a man made disease. No one is trying to stop it. There is no profit in a cure.”

    1. There is this thing called science. Learn what it is . There is no need for anybody but the stupidest of people to cling to conspiracy crap. There are blood samples stored since the 1950’s (before there was even a widespread knowledge of DNA, let alone an ability to manipulate it) that give lie to your statement. The virus (as many viruses and bacteria have) jumped from one host to another. There is no factual support for your damaging beliefs (damaging in the same way as the beliefs of some science-illiterates that polio vaccines cause HIV, thus assuring that polio remains endemic in their countries).

    2. The FACT is that some diseases have no cure, only treatment and management. There have only recently been strides made in the cure of viral disease, generally medicine aims to keep folks alive until the immune system can clear the virus. And given that there are now cures for Hepatitis C (not always successful, but a good %age of people get the virus cleared) and research on other cures, what you suggest is clearly wrong. FACTS trump myth and belief, especially when those myths are conspiracy based.

  • dwes09

    @Celtic: “I agree there is no real desire to find a cure (and, I suspect there may be one already)”

    The ONLY weapons that medical science has had to deal with viral disease until very recently has been vaccines and keeping people alive with symptom control until their immune system can defeat the virus. Hard to study an organism that is only active inside cells, and that is not really alive in the traditional sense.

    It is not that there is no real desire to find a cure, essentially NO VIRAL DISEASE HAS HAD A CURE UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, AND THOSE CURES HAVE BEEN AN ADJUNCT THE UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPTS TO CURE HIV.

    Science is the cure for superstition and conspiracy myths. Try it.

  • Brian

    It’s absolutely disgusting that this man Dugas was maligned by scientists, the mainstream media and gay media – absolutely disgusting.

    It shows how false information can be spread by educated people as well as by media. The gay community accepted the lies about patient zero, and should also be condemned.

    You have to wonder how many other lies have been spread and accepted in the name of HIV hysteria and homophobia. Big Pharma has been laughing all the way to the bank.

    We need trials to prosecute scientists and drugs companies.

  • Rob

    @Celtic: ” because of the huge amounts of money HIV brings in to the drug companies”

    Doesn’t it follow there would be huge amounts of money in a cure?

  • Rob

    @Russell1947: “(Thanks Reagan)”

    Speaking of myths that need to die. BTW, could you imagine the hysteria and Gay Inc pearl clutching if he had taken the money appropriated for AIDS and sent it to the UN? You know, like President Stupid did with Zika funding?

  • MarionPaige

    @Brian: “It’s absolutely disgusting that this man Dugas was maligned by scientists, the mainstream media and gay media – absolutely disgusting.”

    The Patient Zero story was the clickbait of it’s time. A story that was easy and profitable to propagate and no one cared if it was actually true.

    In many of these cases, it is like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around trying to get the truth out. Generally, one has to wait a generation or two or,

    in a most recent case,

    A Billionaire took it upon himself to call bullshit on the narrative

  • Brian

    The AIDS narrative was BS from the beginning. You had an illness caused by rampant promiscuity in small spaces. Bacteria and viruses love small spaces. Small spaces cause things to spread, as anybody who has shared a room with a flu-sufferer knows.

    However, aforementioned promiscuous people did not want to admit that their “libertine” lifestyles were enabling a very natural illness. They wanted to keep being promiscuous, turning AIDS into a victimhood narrative based on gay rights. What they really wanted was sleaze rights.

  • ChrisK

    @Brian: Yes and all the straight people who make up the majority of it or countries like Africa devastated by it only have themselves to blame for being too promiscuous!!

    Damn you’re a dangerous dumbass.

  • Robert-in-Seattle

    @ChrisK: Actually, ChrisK, it’s a syndrome. A series of auto-immune reactions that eventually weaken and corrupt the immune system. Not a disease. Not a virus. I wish it was that simple, but it’s not.

  • He BGB

    I read an article yesterday about this. That zero was the letter O bUT for outside the United States not California because AIDS started in New York not San Francisco (coming from the Caribbean, ie., Haiti). That bugs me that Randy Shilts,used patient zero as a ploy to sell books.Would it have made that much difference? We just wanted the truth and an explanation

  • Brian

    @ChrisK: Carelessness and promiscuity are a risky combination regardless of one’s sexuality.

  • dwes09

    @Robert-in-Seattle: @Robert-in-Seattle: “Actually, ChrisK, it’s a syndrome. A series of auto-immune reactions that eventually weaken and corrupt the immune system. Not a disease. Not a virus. I wish it was that simple, but it’s not.”

    Yet another one that does not know the difference between their imagination and science. The virus that causes HIV is incredibly well studied. That is it sexually transmitted is well understood. The mechanics whereby it weakens the immune system is very well understood. What you believe is not necessarily what is so, and in this case it really is just what you believe. Weak minds are dangerous, especially when you choose to speak with an authority you don’t deserve.

  • dwes09

    @Brian: “The AIDS narrative was BS from the beginning.”

    The AIDS narrative WAS bullshit AT the beginning. Then actual science was done and the cause and methods of transmission were found out, as well as the progression of the disease. Now all the bullshit is coming from people like you who are lost in their own imaginations and alienated from reality.
    Funny thing is the information is there and easily accessed, but you are so intellectually lazy you actually prefer ignorance to engagement with the real world!

  • ChrisK

    @dwes09: Ha. Oh no. Is that where Robert was going with it? I honestly thought we’d moved on from that BS years ago. Then again you still have the ones that think the moon landing was a hoax.

  • MediaGuy

    It is possible that the HIV virus was spread through the Hep B trials in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The evidence for that is the emergence of clusters of HIV patients in metropolitan areas where the vaccine was trialed. The hep B vaccine itself was devised and developed using monkey lung tissue as a medium to grow the virus. Simian HIV jumped species in the vaccine. All of this supervised by the fame whore Hillary Koprowsky at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia who denied that he used monkey tissue in the vaccine. It was banned because of exactly this reason, that it could transmit virus to humans. In my opinion Koprowsky is the father of AIDS and he also ruined my sex life. Boo on him. And the “scientists” at the Wistar Institute must be idiots, I mean who was supervising this guy.

  • Carole

    Wasn’t AIDS a virus in chimpanzees first? I remember there was some alluding to African men having sex with chimps being what brought it to humans.

  • adamnfool

    If anyone is interested you can find the link to the Nature paper in The NY Times article.

    Here is a timeline I found that includes transmission to humans.
    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9949-timeline-hiv-and-aids#.U-UHyfldV8E

    If anyone has any questions about HIV, AIDS, or any other related topic then I would mostly recommend to google your question. I personally don’t think there’s a conspiracy and google should get you to somewhere respectable and a more appropriate to learn probably.

    I should stop there but I’m not going to. A terrible tragedy happened and many died and suffered from a global outbreak of a virus. No one deserved it for any actions. I believe this link shows that due to how the virus functions, gay men were at higher risk of infection evidenced by the transmission rates in this link.

    http://mobile.aidsmap.com/HIV-risk-levels-for-the-insertive-and-receptive-partner-in-different-types-of-sexual-intercourse/page/1443490

    It indicates that a straight man has many times less chance to be infected. Straight bachelors are promiscuous and would be moreso if they could let’s be real, but they we would still not be as targeted by transmission. As such promiscuity was not the cause. Biology and an uncaring universe are the only things to blame.

    The worst thing you could ever do would be to stigmatize those caught in an epidemic. People won’t seek help. Other people won’t want to help them. Disease outbreaks happen. Gay men have not been particularly well liked in many places for awhile to say the least. The social and political atmosphere in which gay men lived in the US at the time was decidedly not to their advantage when tragedy struck, and it made the tragedy worse than if it would have happened today.

    The enormous medical and scientific strides that have happened in the intervening years should not be discounted as well. People are living with HIV today and are just people, and always were just people. There will be further strides too, as evidenced by this article, research is still ongoing. This level of technological and social response to this sort of epidemic could not have really happened at any other point in human history, so perhaps that indicates that there is an upside to the continued progress of the rational understanding of the universe as well as the continued progression of the free society we have today.

    *gets off soapbox*

    That’s at least what I think.

  • Brian

    Acquired sexual illnesses don’t affect you because of your sexual identity. They affect you because you have behaved in a way that has allowed the illness into your body.

    If you behave recklessly in the sexual market-place, you are allowing yourself to acquire bacterial and viral infections. You are opening the door to infection.

    Patient Zero was a convenient scapegoat for the media and gay community. He was the cover for some very sleazy behavior seen in gay-identifying men in the 1970’s.

  • MediaGuy

    @adamnfool: The second article says:

    HIV can also pass through the skin of the penis, and certain factors (see Important factors affecting risk, below) can increase the likelihood of this happening during vaginal intercourse.

    This is horseshit.

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  • rhino79

    Of course Gaetan Dugas wasn’t “Patient Zero” in the sense that he was the first individual to bring HIV to the United States. If that is how people interpret his historic place in the history of HIV/AIDS then they are wrong. However, it is a fact that Dugas was connected to the first well-documented “cluster” of HIV patients in the United States. In other words, it is highly likely that Dugas was responsible for infecting dozens of men in the earliest stages of the American HIV epidemic. So while he obviously wasn’t the Typhoid Mary of the American AIDS epidemic, he wasn’t some innocent scapegoat.

  • kunty

    @John Russell: Thanks for the link. it is great how they can give us a science lesson thats understandable for the stupid. I loved it and am very happy shared this. I just hope jersey mike listened to it.

  • adamnfool

    @Brian:

    If you look at the link, it has to do with reduced transmission rates from types of intercourse straight men are likely to engage in. They could be many times more “promiscuous” than a gay man and not get infected. Do you understand that?

    Perhaps I’m wrong but you seem desperate to feel superior to those who have more sex than you. Most human beings understand a certain level of somberness is due when discussing the deaths of so many, and it doesn’t really matter the cause. You don’t though. You feel righteously superior instead.

    @MediaGuy:
    So the effective rate for straight men would be 0%? That still proves the point.

    @rhino79:
    No one knew the cause. How could anyone be faulted?

  • rhino79

    @adamnfool: I’m not saying Dugas deserves some kind of moral blame for his behavior, unless one considers gargantuan promiscuity blameworthy. But the fact remains that probably contributed to acceleration and spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in America.

  • adamnfool

    @rhino79:

    Humans have sex. Some more than others.
    The mechanisms of a slow acting retrovirus that is infectious without showing symptoms caused the epidemic.

  • rhino79

    @adamnfool: A slow-acting retrovirus combined with the sexual behavior of gay men caused the epidemic. You seem unable and unwilling to admit that behavior played a role. Again, this isn’t a moral judgment, just a fact.

  • adamnfool

    @rhino79:

    Because when you start claiming certain behaviors are responsible, it’s necessary to get your claims right and it becomes a much larger discussion. If gay men’s sexual behavior is on the list, then so is societies treatment of gay men which so greatly affects that behavior.

    1) Slow acting retrovirus that targets the immune system
    2) Men acting biologically without the cultural mores and expectations of their straight counterparts
    3) that population being small and self facing in terms of transmission
    4) that population being unidentifiable due to living under the radar due to being outcasts
    5) Larger society’s slower response and increased blame associated due to being gay

    Until gay men can exist in the exact same world as straight men (never going to happen), there can be no expectation for our behaviors to mimic there’s exactly.

  • adamnfool

    And I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for over a decade. But I ain’t no snow angel, and I will defend others right to live as they see fit. I will not blame gay men’s sexual behavior. I will blame a virus.

  • ChrisK

    @Cristal32: Yeah, just send the Voo Doo Doc plenty of $$ and I’m sure he’ll cure whatever is bugging you.

  • ernestmac13

    I am old enough to remember the height of the crisis as, I was in high school during the early 80’s and; I recall how outwards in the media Christianity saw AIDS as an opportunity to lash out at the Gay Community. How they declared the strange cancers which where hitting the Gay community as being God’s wrath. It wasn’t until Hemophiliacs, people who received blood transfusions due to surgeries, etc, that the general population went from condemnation to concern. Had it not been for the support of our devoted lesbian population who devoted their time, and often their money; in support of the sick and dying, far fewer people would have lived long enough to be put on AIDS medications.

    Zika and or possibly some other sexually transmitted virus could easily become as lethal as the AIDS epidemic, but to the general population. Society at large will benefit from from the safe sex practices that have been instituted as a result of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic. We need to learn from the lessons and mistakes of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

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