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HIV/AIDs From Congo to America: A Theory

Updated on November 12, 2017



Brief history of the virus

Although there are a number of theories in the medical community about the origins of HIV infections among humans, many researchers today agree that human beings may have come in contact with the virus through hunting sub-groups of chimpanzees from West-Central Africa (Faria et al., 2014). Following a great deal of research in 1999, researchers discovered a type of simian immunodeficiency virus that almost identical to the HIV strain in the P. t. troglodytes chimpanzees (Wolfe, Switzer, Carr, Bhullar and Shanmugam, 2004). According to the researchers, this strain underwent recombination in the chimpanzees to a form that could ultimately cross over and affect human beings causing AIDS.

Spread of HIV from Kinshasa

According to recent studies, some of the earliest well known cases of HIV-1 infections were found in several samples, showing how the virus may have reached America and other part of the world. The first sample was a blood sample taken from an adult from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1959 while the second was a lymph node obtained from a female from the same country in 1960. The third sample was a tissue sample from an American teenager who died in 1969 and the fourth earliest sample was a tissue sample from a Norwegian sailor who died in 1976. From these samples, it is possible to draw out a pattern/timeline from Africa to the United States (, 2011).

According to a 2014 study, the strain of HIV that has today become highly infectious was as a result of ecological factors that caused its mutations. After collecting enough samples for research, Faria et al., (2014) came to the conclusion that the HIV-1 group M pandemic is highly likely to have began in the 1920s in Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of Congo. As a result of rail and river transport during the 1960s as well as sexual revolution during this period, HIV pandemic rose as the virus continued spreading in to the mining areas southeastern of Congo and beyond.

During the 1920s, while Congo was a colony of Belgium, Kinshasa was made the capital city and rapidly grew to become an attractive destination for riches. By attracting many young working men, there was also a sexual revolution and changes in the region, which researchers believe to have sparked the pandemic. With changes in sexual behavior and other health practices, the virus spread quickly through the population and through the extensive rail network, continued spreading to other African cities and towns over the following years (Keim, 2014).

After gaining its independence from Belgium in 1960, it had become a good source of employment particularly for French speakers from all over the world, this including Haiti. According to a good number of studies, it was Haitian teachers who were returning home from this region that carried the virus to western parts of the Atlantic and ultimately to the United States. According to studies, HIV-related illnesses were becoming evident between the 1970s and 80s in the Caribbean island of Haiti, which was the period that the young teachers had just returned home from Congo and surrounding regions during the mid 1960s. As travel had become easier and common during this period, the virus was then brought to the United States between 1969 and 72. Here, it is important to note that it was during this period of time that America was experiencing sexual liberation and many gay men were moving to such cosmopolitan cities like San Francisco and New York. As a result of this liberation, unscreened blood transfusion and increased usage of intravenous drugs (the shared use of unsterile needles) the risk of transmission grew with the virus quickly spreading in the gay community since anal intercourse had been shown to present a higher risk of transmission in comparison to vaginal intercourse.

Chart of AIDs cases between 1981 and 2000 in the US. (According to the chart, there is increased rates of infections between 1981 and 1993. This followed by a decline in infections which is due to awareness and prevention strategies) (World Health Organization/UNAIDS, 2000)

In the United States, the first reported case of AIDS was in 1981. It was following a series of studies that it became clear that the disease had been caused the HIV virus. In 1984, a study on the disease and the virus was published linking clusters of the disease in New York and California to homosexual behaviors (Auerbach et al., 1984). Although it was not yet clear as to how the virus was spread, the report suggested that HIV was spread through the sharing of needles, blood products as well as sexually. During this period, an individual by the name Gaetan Dugas was said to be the main link between HIV/AIDs patients in California and New York, and thus tied to 40 of the first 248 cases of the disease in America. According to Gaetan Dugas, he liked to travel and had about 250 male sexual partners annually and continued with his promiscuity even after the doctors informed him that he would infect others with the virus.
Although Dugas was found to be one of the earliest cases of HIV/AIDS in America, later studies showed that there were other early cases other virus in America (Auerbach et al., 1984). This meant that his was not the first case of HIV. Here, it is important to note that it is not possible to pinpoint a single individual as the very first case given that the virus and the diseases were virtually unknown before the symptoms became common and more prevalent over time.


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