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HIV Infected Humans Much Earlier Than Thought

Jim Burroway

June 28th, 2008

HIV-1, the prevalent strain of Human Immunodeficiency Virus infecting people around the world was first thought to have entered the human bloodstream at around 1931. Now a second human tissue sample stored at a hospital in Kinshasa in 1960 has pushed the date back more than two decades:

Marlea Gemme… analyzed HIV-1 genetic material obtained from lymph tissue collected in 1960 from the University of Kinshasa pathology department in the Democratic Republic of the Congo–only the second HIV sequence predating 1976 deciphered to date. Thus far, she has sequenced about 1000 DNA bases, which she has compared with the previously reported sequence of HIV-1 extracted from a frozen blood sample from 1959. Since it entered into humans, HIV-1 has been evolving into different substrains–but the 1960 and 1959 sequences were much more divergent than expected, Gemmel reported at the meeting. “It reflects a long past of diversification before 1960,” she said.

By comparing the two sequences with more recent ones, Gemmel was able to show that HIV-1 first entered humans about 1908, not 1931, as earlier analyses with just the 1959 sample found. Her analysis also indicates that the virus existed in low levels in humans until the middle of the 20th century. “That matches the rise of population centers,” Gemmel explained, suggesting that urbanization around that time paved the way for the AIDS epidemic.

There is increasing evidence that AIDS has existed in some very remote parts of Africa for several decades before exploding in Kinshasa and other large cities in the 1970s and in Europe and America in the early 1980s. You can read more about the history of AIDS in our report, Opportunistic Infection, which we will now have to update to include these latest findings.



Kottwitz, Raimund
August 26th, 2008 | LINK

Everyone who lives cognisant in the time between 1980 and 1990 knows, that the origin of AIDS is about 1979. The first description of the symptons e.g. has been published in the German journal “DER SPIEGEL” in 22/1982 page 187 as Kaposi desease under the titel
“Horror from yonder”
The question in this article is, why now? Homosexuality exists since living memory?

From scientific point of view it is evident, that AIDS is a pandemic disease. The spreading factor has been always greater then 1. All political and medical efforts never stopped the spreading. It has only been possible to slow down.
I is not possible for this kind of diseases to survive over 50 years in remote areas in Africa and than start his career in 1980 in San Francisco.

If you spread such disinformations, than you heave to give all your references to check this informations. To tell a story is easy, but to verify it is a hard job.


Jim Burroway
August 26th, 2008 | LINK

I’m afraid you’ve missed the whole story, Raimund. AIDS did not start in SF in 1979. No scientist studying the disease has ever put forward such a ridiculous notion.

And your citation of DER SPIEGEL in 1982 as thge “first description of the symptoms” is wrong as well. The first was released in July 5, 1981 by the CDC.

In fact, if you dig a little deeper, scientists have reported how it is possible for diseases like this to survive over 50 years in remote areas — unurbanized areas with little movement between villages — almost indefinitely. It was urbanization, wars, and the opening of travel which allowed the disease to reach it’s current pandemic status.

Yes, it is a hard story to tell, one that DER SPIEGEL was not able to tell in 1982. I suggest you rely on more recent sources.

If you want to know the real story, then I suggest you follow the references I included in this report on the history of AIDS.

Kottwitz, Raimund
August 26th, 2008 | LINK

You are right: to say the starting point was San Francisco is wrong, even New York may be an aspirant for this award. But all publications in this time identify America as origin.

I wrote “e.g.” the first description done by DER SPIEGEL has been in 1982.
If you study other journals annual indexes you will find similar results.

I have been several times in Africa starting from 1970. During this time it was common (by the Hippies) to find any place away from civilization. Only in Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Amazon exists in this time people without contact to western civilization. But even they was traveling for bargain greatest distances, doing so since all the time during human live on earth. See:
Bronislaw Malinowski,
Argonauts of the Western Pacific.
Written in 1917.

The final story in DER SPIEGEL:
In Europe experts awaits since months the first Kaposi affection in the homo sexual milieu. But the epidemic takes up so much time, that many assumes that this is a typical american disease, reserved only for the New World.

Even like siphilis imported from America, this hope was a fallacy:
In Barcelona and Kopenhagen the first affections are registered. The spanish man lived 3 month in New York and also the danish affections seems to be related to man´s love.
The next affections are awaited in the megalopolis of homosexuality: Athena, Rom, London and Berlin.


Timothy Kincaid
August 26th, 2008 | LINK


You personal anecdotes do not dissuade us from believing the reports of epidemiologists.

While you may very much wish to believe that HIV originated in the United States in the 1980’s, all reputable scientific study has led the medical community to conclusions that differ greatly from your assertions.

If you have some unique evidence that HIV did not exist prior to 1980 and originated in New York, I’m sure that those who work daily to fight this disease would be interested. But otherwise the best evidence shows that HIV originated in Africa where it mutated from a much older strain of SIV.

Jim Burroway
August 26th, 2008 | LINK

Our comments policy requires substantiation. All you’ve provided is some general magazine articles from 1982.

The state of knowledge has moved significantly since then. (The HIV virus hadn’t even been discovered yet when this Der Spiegel article appeared.) But now the medical literature is full of descriptions of what we now know of AIDS from Europe and Africa since the early- to mid-1970’s. And there was even a confirmed HIV virus isolated in the blood sample taken from a man in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) in 1959.

No reputable researcher has ever suggested what you propose. On the other hand, I have provided dozens of references which conclusively prove that HIV has been a part of the landscape for many decades, long before it was found in the U.S.

As I said, our Comments Policy states that assertions of fact require substantiation. You have provided none. If you have reputable sources to share, we will be happy to post them. Until then, your comments are in moderation.

William Cohen
May 31st, 2014 | LINK

Jim Burroway adheres to the principles of evidence-based science. He is to be congratulated for this.

One has to locate and present the best evidence available from top-ranked, peer-review journals. That’s the best we have.

Finding that information is not so easy.

Writing about it so enjoyably, as he does, while avoiding narrow disciplinary jargon, is almost miraculous.

Synthesizing some possible future directions–logically- is then the potential whipped cream on the cake.

The alternatives are numerous. How often do we read claims based on a popular magazine article; or someone’s personal musings; or someone’s deductions from s few personal experiences; or a sudden favorite epiphany…and so on.

The scientific and general LGBTQ community owes Jim Burroway an overwhelming debt of gratitude.

Bill Cohen, Publisher
Harrington Park Press

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