April 23, 1984: HTLV-III (HIV) linked to AIDS
The early 1980s marked a time of crisis, in paricular, one that began within the LGBTQ+ community. During this time, news reports spilled in from all over the country, stating that epidemic seemed to be plaguing specific groups across America. Affected individuals were susceptible to numerous opportunistic diseases that took advantage of their host’s weakened immune system. What puzzled doctors were where this disease had come from and what was causing it to spread so aggressively among very specific communities.
Clearing the confusion
Prior to 1980, no one is certain where or how Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS made its way into the human population. Analyses of similar immune syndromes in other primates revealed a link between a simian immune virus and a particular strain of HIV. The discovery has led immunologists to speculate that HIV evolved from a virus that transferred from chimpanzees to humans. It wasn’t until 1984, three years after AIDS was recognized as an official disease by the CDC, that HIV and AIDS were linked.
It took doctors less than a year to determine that AIDS was not an ailment reserved solely for same-sex partners. Nevertheless, the idea that it somehow “belonged” to the gay community persisted for years. Many of the early accounts of AIDS was among gay men and women in large US cities. Within a few years, studies had branched out to determine that the disease could be spread through any bodily fluid, rather than solely through means reserved for STDs.
Finding a cure
In 1985, the FDA established the first blood test to detect the retrovirus responsible for HIV and AIDS. By the end of that year, the American Foundation for AIDS Research had been established following the death of actor Rock Hudson and US Public Health Services had issued the first recommendations for preventing mother to child transmission of the disease. It wasn’t until 1995 that the first successful anti-retroviral treatment became available. Today, over 10 million people are estimated to be living with AIDS, but with advanced anti-retroviral treatments, they can be expected to live healthy lives on par with anyone else.