Im­mi­grant Zero: Haitian brought AIDS to U.S. in 1969, study says

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Will Dunham

The AIDS virus in­vaded the U.S. in about 1969 from Haiti, car­ried most likely by a sin­gle in­fected im­mi­grant who set the stage for it to sweep the world in a tragic epi­demic, sci­en­tists said Oct. 29.

Michael Worobey, a Univer­sity of Ari­zona evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­o­gist, said the 1969 U.S. en­try date is ear­lier than some had thought.

The time­line laid out in the study led by Mr. Worobey in­di­cates that HIV in­fec­tions were oc­cur­ring in the U.S. for roughly 12 years be­fore AIDS was first rec­og­nized by sci­en­tists as a dis­ease in 1981. Many peo­ple had died by that point.

“It is some­how chill­ing to know it was prob­a­bly cir­cu­lat­ing for so long un­der our noses,” Mr. Worobey said.

The re­searchers con­ducted a ge­netic anal­y­sis of stored blood sam­ples from early AIDS pa­tients to de­ter­mine when the hu­man im­mun­od­e­fi­ciency virus first en­tered the U.S.

They found that HIV was brought to Haiti by an in­fected per­son from cen­tral Africa in about 1966, which matches ear­lier es­ti­mates, and then came to the U.S. in about 1969.

The re­searchers think that an un­known sin­gle in­fected Haitian im­mi­grant ar­rived in a large city like Mi­ami or New York, and that the virus cir­cu­lated for years — first in the U.S. pop­u­la­tion and then to other na­tions.

It can take sev­eral years af­ter in­fec­tion for a per­son to de­velop AIDS, a dis­ease that rav­ages the im­mune sys­tem.

“That one in­fec­tion would have be­come two, and then it dou­bles again and the two be­comes four,” Mr. Worobey said. “So you have a pe­riod — prob­a­bly a fair num­ber of years — where you’re deal­ing with prob­a­bly fewer than a hun­dred peo­ple who are in­fected.

“And then, as with epi­demic ex­pan­sion, at some point the hun­dred be­comes 200, you start get­ting into thou­sands, tens of thou­sands. And then quite rapidly you can be up into the hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­fec­tions that were prob­a­bly al­ready there be­fore AIDS was rec­og­nized in the early 1980s.”

The study was pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences.

The path the virus trav­eled as it jumped from na­tion to na­tion has long been de­bated by sci­en­tists.

A study pub­lished in the early 1980s in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Medicine traced many early HIV in­fec­tions to an un­named in­fected ho­mo­sex­ual male, dubbed “Pa­tient 0,” who re­searchers thought had car­ried the virus from Africa and in­tro­duced it into the ho­mo­sex­ual com­mu­nity in the U.S.

“Pa­tient 0” was fea­tured in the 1987 book, “And the Band Played On,” which doc­u­mented the out­break of AIDS in the U.S. Sev­eral years later, the re­searchers re­pu­di­ated that study.

The Univer­sity of Mi­ami’s Dr. Arthur Pitchenik, a co-au­thor of the latest study, had seen Haitian im­mi­grants in Mi­ami as early as 1979 with a mys­tery ill­ness that turned out to be AIDS. He knew the gov­ern­ment long had stored some of their blood sam­ples.

The re­searchers an­a­lyzed sam­ples from five of th­ese Haitian im­mi­grants dat­ing from 1982 and 1983. They also looked at ge­netic data from 117 more early AIDS pa­tients from around the world.

The ge­netic anal­y­sis al­lowed the sci­en­tists to cal­i­brate the molec­u­lar clock of the strain of HIV that has spread most widely, and cal­cu­lated when it ar­rived first in Haiti from Africa and then in the U.S.

The re­searchers ruled out the pos­si­bil­ity that HIV had come di­rectly to the U.S. from Africa, set­ting a 99.8 per­cent prob­a­bil­ity Haiti was the step­ping­stone.

“I think that it gives us more clear in­sight into the his­tory of [the AIDS epi­demic] and what path the virus took — and hard, ob­jec­tive ev­i­dence, not just arm­chair think­ing,” Dr. Pitchenik said.

Stud­ies sug­gest the virus first en­tered the hu­man pop­u­la­tion in about 1930 in cen­tral Africa, prob­a­bly when peo­ple slaugh­tered in­fected chim­panzees for meat.

AIDS has killed more than 25 mil­lion peo­ple, and about 40 mil­lion oth­ers are in­fected with HIV.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.