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New research corrects the history of HIV epidemic in America

Patient Zero’ no more, Jon Cohen, Science  04 Mar 2016: Vol. 351, Issue 6277, pp. 1013 DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6277.1013

“A new genetic study of HIV isolated from blood samples taken in the late 1970s clarifies where and when the epidemic began in the United States—and it does not involve a man infamously labeled as “Patient Zero.” Researchers lead by evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey from the University of Arizona in Tucson obtained eight blood samples taken from gay and bisexual men in 1978 and 1979 for hepatitis B studies. They isolated HIV from the blood and resurrected nearly complete viral genomes. They did the same with a 1983 blood sample from Patient Zero, a Canadian flight attendant named Gaétan Dugas whom journalist Randy Shilts made famous in his best-selling 1987 book about the AIDS epidemic, And the Band Played On. Using a technique known as the molecular clock that allows researchers to create a family tree of different genetic isolates and place them in time, Worobey explained in a presentation at an HIV/AIDS meeting in Boston last week that the virus likely came to New York City in 1970 and was linked to viral isolates then circulating in Haiti and other Caribbean countries. Dugas’s isolate fell in about the middle of the tree they created of early U.S. isolates, and clearly showed that he was not Patient Zero—the first person to introduce the virus—in the United States.”

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