In the summer of 1981, an unknown pop singer named Madonna began playing in New York City clubs, a new cable channel devoted to music videos, MTV, went on the air, and the first reports of the disease now known as AIDS were published in the scientific literature.
25 years ago today, on June 5, 1981, Dr. Michael Gottlieb and colleagues published a short report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing a group of patients treated for Pneumocystis pneumonia. As the editors of MMWR noted, this disease in young, previously healthy individuals was unusual. To add to the mystery, it was noted that all of the patients were homosexual and exhibited signs of a severe immunodeficiency, leading to speculation that a new, sexually transmitted pathogen could be responsible for this syndrome. Within weeks, physicians in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Miami all reported clusters of young, gay men with similar immunodeficiencies and unusual opportunistic infections. These men all had AIDS.
Today, it is estimated that 25 million people worldwide have died of AIDS, over 40 million people are infected with HIV, and 5 million people a year, or nearly 15,000 people a day, become newly infected. Despite the work of thousands of dedicated researchers, physicians, and advocates, we still do not have a cure.
In subsequent parts of this series, the students of Davidson College and I will explore the biology of HIV/AIDS, the history of this pandemic, its social, economic, and political consequences, and review the latest scientific advances. Please join us as we explore HIV/AIDS, the most horrific plague of modern times.