At the end of the last century, the most frightening disease was not Ebola or Avian Flu, it was AIDS. In a relatively short space of time it appeared and seemed to decimate communities leaving tragedy in its wake. This essay will delve into the history of this epidemic and the methods that have been used to lessen its impact in modern times.
HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is the virus that causes AIDS. The first suspected cases of the virus were found in Africa around the early 1900’s. It was believed to have crossed from primates to humans through the hunting and butchering of those animals for food. When such villages were relatively isolated, the illness remained that way as well.
A few decades later, the first cases that were confirmed outside of Africa were found in a European family in which the father was a sailor. He, his wife and young children died from some unknown wasting disease that was later confirmed by tissue sample testing to be AIDS which he had contracted while on shore leave. Other frequent travelers in this time before widespread condom use quietly spread the virus at various ports of call but the populations in which it was most frequently observed were not usually the concern of the medical community.
When AIDS reached America, it became associated with the homosexual community. Many of the first people to die were gay which led members of the wider heterosexual community to believe they were safe. Some who had a religious bias even concluded that the disease was a punishment from God meant to remove that particular sin from the world. This has been seen as the reason for the relatively slow response to the problem which allowed AIDS to become an epidemic.
Untreated, AIDS can destroy the immune system to the point that the patient becomes vulnerable to any disease or infection. The common cold becomes deadly in that circumstance. There are also lesions that cover the skin and in the final stages the brain no longer functions properly.
In more recent times, medications have been discovered which can suppress the worst of these effects and return the immune system to full functionality or close to it. There is no cure to date but many people manage to live full lives despite their diagnosis. With more information and less discrimination, the epidemic may one day be just a distant memory.