Who Was Gatan Dugas Aids Patient Zero
Le MondeGaëtan Dugas.
Born in 1953 in Quebec, Gaëtan Dugas was a handsome flight attendant who had begun working for Air Canada in 1974.
Darrow was able to trace eight of the cases reported in Los Angeles directly back to Dugas. The CDC quickly contacted him asking for his help in research in what they were now sure was a completely new sexually transmitted disease.
Dugas was more than happy to oblige. He flew to CDC headquarters in Atlanta and donated large amounts of his blood that would prove critical in future research.
He even volunteered to give the scientists an incredibly detailed list of some of his other partners who he thought might have been infected to help them trace the spread of the disease throughout the country. In total, Dugas estimated hed had around 750 sexual partners over the past three years and provided the CDC with roughly 10 percent of their names.
The charismatic,kind, and energetic, but ultimately doomed young Canadian returned home to Quebec and decided to volunteer at a clinic for HIV-infected men in Canada. He passed away from AIDS-related complications in March of 1984, one month after turning 31.
Every New Disease Triggers A Search For Someone To Blame
Focusing on a viruss origins encourages individualized shame while ignoring the broader societal factors that contribute to a diseases transmission.
About the author: Steven Thrasher is an assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide.
This summer, yet another disease unfamiliar to most people in the United States is being transmitted around the worldas is the impulse to find someone to blame. Many news stories about the current monkeypox outbreak make reference to a patient zero, supposedly the one person who brought the virus into a particular state or community. This kind of finger-pointing, which long predates monkeypox, is a deeply flawed framing. Worse yet, stigmatizing individuals who get sickand portraying the social, interconnected nature of communicable disease as an individual matteractually impedes efforts to slow the spread of infection.
According to Shiltss book and Dugass friends, the flight attendant was a sexually active gay man. By his own count, he had sex with hundreds of partners. But in the years after the Stonewall riots of 1969, when many gay men felt free for the first time to express their sexuality, having so many sexual partners was not considered unusual or even necessarily unhealthy.
Hiv Arrived In The Us Long Before Patient Zero
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In the tortuous mythology of the AIDS epidemic, one legend never seems to die: Patient Zero, a.k.a. Gaétan Dugas, a globe-trotting, sexually insatiable French Canadian flight attendant who supposedly picked up H.I.V. in Haiti or Africa and spread it to dozens, even hundreds, of men before his death in 1984.
Mr. Dugas was once blamed for setting off the entire American AIDS epidemic, which traumatized the nation in the 1980s and has since killed more than 500,000 Americans. The New York Post even described him with the headline The Man Who Gave Us AIDS.
But after a new genetic analysis of stored blood samples, bolstered by some intriguing historical detective work, scientists on Wednesday .
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.
The new analysis shows that Mr. Dugass blood, sampled in 1983, contained a viral strain already infecting men in New York before he began visiting gay bars in the city after being hired by Air Canada in 1974.
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Not Just A Hypothetical Case
These developments played into the Reagan administrations slow-to-develop and socially conservative response to the epidemic. Jennifer Brier has argued that the most important factor shaping the Republican administrations response to AIDS was the lead role taken by members of the Department of Education. The departments secretary, William Bennett, and the under secretary, Gary Bauer, who was also Reagans advisor on domestic policy issues, developed a response that was in keeping with the religious support base of the New Right. Their approach took every opportunity to reinforce the supremacy of heterosexual marriage and traditional gender roles.92 To the notion of the innocent victim of AIDSthe HIV-infected blood transfusion recipient, for exampleBennett and Bauer set up a rhetorical counterpoint, the deserving person with AIDS. This idea was articulated in the writing of John Klenk, one of Bauers former aides: The most common cause of the spread of AIDS is irresponsible sexual behavior. Anyone who engages in such behavior endangers him self, his partner, his children, and other innocent victimsnot to speak of causing enormous medical costs to taxpayers and the public. Society must show its disapproval for such behavior.93
Researchers Clear Patient Zero From Aids Origin Story
Its one of the biggest medical mysteries of our time: How did HIV come to the U.S.?
Scientists say they have figured out when and where the virus first arrived here by genetically sequencing samples from people infected by the virus early on. In the process, they have exonerated the man accused of triggering the epidemic in North America.
A team of researchers at the University of Arizona sequenced the HIV virus taken from Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas, the man called Patient Zero in the best-selling book And the Band Played On, which chronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic in America.
The scientists also sequenced the virus from eight other men infected with HIV during the 1970s. From these genetic codes, the scientists estimate HIV came to the U.S. from Haiti in 1970 or 1971, but it went undetected by doctors for years.
The virus got to New York City pretty darn early, says evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey, who led the study. It was really under the radar for a decade or so.
The disease spread around New York City for a few years, with the number of infections doubling each year. Then in 1976, one person took the virus across the country to San Francisco, Worobey and his team found.
Back in the early 80s, behavioral scientist William Darrow was a young scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He drew the assignment of a lifetime: Figure out why gay men in Los Angeles were dying of a strange illness.
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Gatan Dugas: Kaposis Sarcoma Patient And Book Villain
Noah Stewart, a founding volunteer for AIDS Vancouver, a local community-based organization, made use of the flight attendants unusually long experience of living with AIDS by asking Dugas questions about how he had dealt with various disease-related issues. Stewart described some of the paranoia of the time in an interview:
. . . but swirling with rumors? Absolutely, that Gaétan was lurking in Stanley Park infecting people, uh, that Gaétan was disguising himself, . . . that Gaétan was teaching people how to disguise themselves, . . . ridiculous things, just, idle gay gossip essentially and . . . I dont think I heard any more, any of these things more than once from any individual, it was just really idle, it was a bunch of scared people making up stories. And I think even they realized it.71
Shiltss extensive collection of papers, stored in the San Francisco Public Librarys archives, yields insight into the journalists writing practices. First, he would handwrite his interview notes, scribbling energetically on a yellow pad of lined legal paper, as he led his interviewees chronologically through the events he was interested in covering. Then, often the same night, he would type up his fragmentary notes into rough story drafts on his word processor, trying to reproduce his interviewees idiomatic phrases. Much of the books final manuscript can be matched up, often to the word, to the hundreds of pages of interview notes preserved in the archives.79
Patient Zero And The Power Of A Name
In 1981, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first documented a mysterious disease. In their research, they linked the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to sexual activity.
The researchers began to study one cluster of homosexual men with HIV, and beginning in California, they eventually connected more than 40 men in 10 American cities to this network.
Dugas was placed near the center of this cluster, and the researchers identified him as patient O, an abbreviation to indicate that he resided outside California.
However, the letter O was misinterpreted as a zero in the scientific literature. Once the media and the public noticed the name, the damage was done.
Dugas and his family were condemned for years. In Randy Shilts seminal book on the AIDS crisis, And The Band Played On, Dugas is referenced extensively and referred to as a sociopath with multiple sexual partners.
In 1987, the National Review referred to him as the Columbus of AIDS, and the New York Post called him the man who gave us AIDS on its front page.
Curran, who was not involved in the new research, coordinated the AIDS task force at the CDC in 1981 and then led the HIV/AIDS division until 1995.
The CDC never said that he was patient zero and that he was the first person, Curran said of Dugas.
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A Brief History Of The Epidemic In America
The identification of the virus began with rare lung infections and rare and unusually aggressive cancers in young gay men in New York and California. By December 1981, doctors found these same symptoms in five infants whose mothers were drug users and sex workers.
In 1992, AIDS became the number one cause of death for men in the U.S. aged 2544. By 1995, there were 500,000 reported cases of AIDS in the country. However, in 1996 the number of new AIDS cases declined for the first time since the epidemic began.
Going Back In Time With Blood
For the new research, Worobey and his colleagues gathered archival blood samples in New York and San Francisco that were originally collected for a hepatitis B study in 1978 and 1979. The samples came from men who had sex with men.
The researchers screened the samples and noticed that the prevalence of HIV positivity in these early samples from hepatitis B patients is really quite high, Worobey said Tuesday.
From the samples, the researchers recovered eight genome sequences of HIV, representing the oldest genomes of the virus in North America. They also recovered the HIV genome from Dugas blood sample.
As many of the samples had degraded over time, Worobeys lab developed a technique called RNA jackhammering to recover the genetic material.
The technique involves breaking down the human genomes found in the blood and then extracting the RNA of HIV to recover genetic data about the virus, an approach thats similar to what has been used to reconstruct the ancient genome of Neanderthals in separate studies.
The major contribution which interested me the most was their capacity to restore full sequence genomes from very old serum samples using the jackhammer technique, Curran said of the new research.
The researchers discovered strong evidence that the virus emerged in the United States from a pre-existing Caribbean epidemic in or around 1970.
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The Patient Zero Myth
For decades, a French-Canadian airline employee named Gaetan Dugas, has been known as Patient Zero in the 1980s AIDS epidemic.
Dugas, a man who had sex with men , died in 1984. Since then he has been blamed by some as a primary source for the spread of HIV in North America.
Dugas was one of the primary villains in the 1987 book, And the Band Played On, by San Francisco journalist Randy Shilts.
However, the researchers now say Dugas was falsely accused and unfairly blamed.
Gaetan Dugas is one of the most demonized patients in history, and one of a long line of individuals and groups vilified in the belief that they somehow fueled epidemics with malicious intent, said Richard McKay, D.Phil., a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow in Cambridges Department of History and Philosophy of Science, in a press release.
In fact, McKay says, Dugas actually provided scientists with valuable information before he died.
Dugas told researchers after he contracted HIV that he had 750 sexual partners the previous three years. That wasnt necessarily an unusual number. Researchers said 65 percent of men in a Los Angeles cluster study at the time reported having more than 1,000 sexual partners in their lifetimes.
Much of that sexual connection was with anonymous partners, so many HIV patients couldnt give medical officials any names.
However, McKay says, Dugas provided medical officials with 72 names. That helped scientists track down a wide range of people infected with HIV.
The Real Gatan Dugas Was Not The Monstrous Aids Patient Zero The Media Portrayed Him To Be And Even Helped The Cdc Fight The Disease
Wikimedia CommonsFor decades, Gaëtan Dugas was wrongfully labeled as AIDS Patient Zero, the man who brought the disease to America.
Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, 35.4 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. And for a long time, one man, a Canadian flight attendant named Gaëtan Dugas, was considered as the person who brought the virus to America.
But the story of the so-called AIDS Patient Zero was actually a tragic misunderstanding one that nevertheless persisted for years.
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Spread To The Western Hemisphere
Further isolated occurrences of this infection may have been emerging as early as 1966. The virus eventually entered gay male communities in large United States cities, where a combination of casual, multi-partner sexual activity and relatively high transmission rates associated with anal intercourse allowed it to spread explosively enough to finally be noticed.
Because of the long incubation period of HIV before symptoms of AIDS appear, and because of the initially low incidence, HIV was not noticed at first. By the time the first reported cases of AIDS were found in large United States cities, the prevalence of HIV infection in some communities had passed 5%. Worldwide, HIV infection has spread from urban to rural areas, and has appeared in regions such as China and India.
Aids: The Making Of The ‘patient Zero’ Myth
- University of Cambridge
- A combination of historical and genetic research reveals the error and hype that led to the coining of the term ‘Patient Zero’ and the blaming of one man for the spread of HIV across North America.
A combination of historical and genetic research reveals the error and hype that led to the coining of the term ‘Patient Zero’ and the blaming of one man for the spread of HIV across North America.
A new study proves that a flight attendant who became notorious as the human epicentre of the US AIDS crisis of the 1980s — and the first person to be labeled the ‘Patient Zero’ of any epidemic — was simply one of many thousands infected in the years before HIV was recognized.
Research by a historian from the University of Cambridge and the genetic testing of decades-old blood samples by a team of US scientists has demonstrated that Gaétan Dugas, a French-Canadian gay man posthumously blamed by the media for spreading HIV across North America, was not the epidemic’s ‘Patient Zero’.
In fact, work by Dr Richard McKay, a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow from Cambridge’s Department of History and Philosophy of Science, reveals how the very term ‘Patient Zero’ — still used today in press coverage of outbreaks from Ebola to swine flu to describe the first known case — was created inadvertently in the earliest years of investigating AIDS.
Mistaken for zero
‘Casting’ an epidemic
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How Aids Really Got Started
In 1976, a handful of Belgian nuns were operating a badly needed hospital in Yambuku, a remote village in Zaire. Some 300 patients a day came, many seeking antiviral drugs, which nurses provided via the poorly funded hospital’s five reusable syringes. The result of the inevitable cross-infection was the first outbreak of the blood-borne virus Ebola, which killed 280 of its 318 victims–far more deaths than if there had never been a hospital in the first place.
The Yambuku incident is one of the most harrowing proofs ever recorded of the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished. But the story of the Ebola outbreak differs little in its essentials from that of an exponentially more lethal DISEASE, AIDS. Now marking its 30th official birthday–counting from the 1981 U.S. Centers for Disease Control paper about an unlikely pneumonia cluster in Los Angeles–AIDS has so far killed 30 million people. And in Dr. Jacques Pepin’s convincing account of its history, The Origins of AIDS, it emerges as the greatest man-made health disaster of our times.
Maclean’s November 28, 2011