New study ends urban legend that ‘Patient Zero’ brought HIV to U.S.

| Oct 29, 2016 07:19 AM EDT

A hand-picked Aids patient receives a gift from students during a media event in Ditan hospital to demonstrate China's concern for HIV November 30, 2003 in Beijing, China.

These days most ongoing studies related to HIV are engaged in discovering how to cure the virus. However, findings of a new study undertaken by scientists at the University of Arizona throw new light on the spread of the disease in the United States.

The study published in the science journal Nature on Oct. 26, Wednesday, focuses on the path of HIV/ AIDS in the U.S. It revealed that the earlier accepted view that the so-called "Patient Zero" was responsible for introducing the disease into the country was untrue.

Previously it was believed that Gaetan Dugas, a gay French Canadian flight attendant who died in 1984, spread the deadly disease to several hundred other men after he reportedly acquired HIV in Haiti or Africa. Conversely, the study published in Nature revealed that Dugas' blood bore a HIV strain, which was present in New York as early as the 1970s, much before the flight attendant appeared on the neighborhood club scene.

Moreover, the HIV strain found in most AIDS cases was carried "from Zaire to Haiti sometime around 1967 and subsequently spread to New York City around 1971." Over the next five years, the strain was detected in San Francisco.

Significantly, in a preliminary epidemiological study which began in Southern California Dugas was not even mentioned as Patient Zero, but he was called Patient O. However, later an indistinct circular sign on a chart was interpreted as a zero, fueling the belief that Dugas was responsible for the epidemic.

Gaétan Dugas is among the most "demonized patients in history," New York Times quoted the co-author of the new study, Richard McKay, as saying. According to the researcher, the French Canadian flight attendant is also among a long line of characters and groups maligned in the notion that they somehow spread epidemics with malicious objective in some way.

McKay said that they hope that the findings of their research will make researchers, journalists as well as the public think before they used the term Patient Zero again. Meanwhile, the scientists from the University of Arizona also found that eight other men were already infected with the virus during the 1970s. From the genetic codes sequenced by them, the scientists guess that HIV was carried to the United States from Haiti either in 1970 or 1971, but doctors were not able to detect it for years.

The report quoted Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist who led the study saying that actually the virus was under the scanner for about a decade. Subsequently, the virus spread in the region of New York City for some years, and the number people infected by it increased two-fold each year. The scientists discovered that a particular patient carried the disease to San Francisco in 1976.

What is important is that aside from simply recording the path of HIV's spread across the country, at last the study also assuages the general sequence of events related to the AIDS epidemic. It dismissed the urban legend that everything related to the spread of the disease is due to the misreading of the letter O.

Watch the video on HIV/ AIDS treatment below:

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