HIV is thought to have originated in non-human primates in sub-Saharan Africa and was transferred to humans late in the 19th or early in the 20th century. The first paper recognizing a pattern of opportunistic infections characteristic of AIDS was published in 1981.
The earliest well documented case of Human Immunodeficiency Virus in human dates back to 1959.
The virus may have been present in the United States as early as 1966, but the vast majority of infections occurring outside sub-Saharan Africa (including the U.S.) can be traced back to a single unknown individual who got infected with HIV in Haiti and then brought the infection to the United States sometime around 1969.
What is the history of HIV/AIDS?
1981 – 1985
In 1981, an unknown illness that affected gay men was reported in hospitals in Los Angeles and New York City. The illness was first called GRID (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency) and many people were dying from it. Soon the name was changed to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).
In the very early years, there were a lot of negative feelings (stigma) around AIDS because people were afraid of it. It was a deadly illness and people did not understand how it was passed from person to person.
When many people get sick from an illness in the same area at the same time, it is called an epidemic. This was called the AIDS epidemic.
In 1983, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was discovered as the virus that causes AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that HIV was only passed, or transmitted, through contact with blood, semen and fluids from the vagina.
It was also found that HIV could be passed from mother to child during pregnancy or childbirth or by breastfeeding. The New York State Department of Health began supporting programs to educate people about HIV.
Programs that support people affected by HIV/AIDS were also made available. In 1985, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first blood test that could tell if a person had HIV. The health department began offering HIV testing.
1986 – 1995
HIV was found in men and women from all walks of life. Many new cases of HIV were happening in people who shared needles to inject drugs. This is because when two people use the same needle, they have contact with each other’s blood.
By 1990, more than 28,000 people died of AIDS related causes in New York State. HIV was one of the top causes of death among men under the age of 45. Treatment was not very effective and the medications had many side effects.
In the next five years, from 1990 to 1995, more than 74,000 people were diagnosed with AIDS and almost 50,000 people died of HIV related causes in New York State.
1995 – 2014
In late 1995, new drugs became available that changed the path of the epidemic. For the first time, in 1996, the number of people dying from AIDS finally began to decrease. Looking back, that was the real turning point.
With new treatments that combined different drugs, fewer people were dying from HIV. Programs that gave sterile needles to people who used drugs brought down the number of new cases among drug users. Another major victory was the use of medications to prevent HIV from being passed from a mother to her infant.
2015 – current
Today, there is still no vaccine or cure for HIV, but treatment is very effective. For many people, treatment for HIV has few or no side effects and is as simple as taking one pill, once a day. HIV is now considered a chronic or long-term illness that can be managed.
This means that people living with HIV have healthy, full lives, just like people who are not living with HIV. There is still a lot of work to do to end the AIDS epidemic and remove stigma about HIV.