Assignment 2 Part I
The Cell that Started a Pandemic
This Radiolab podcast talks about how the HIV/AIDS epidemic started: the ultimate patient zero story, a very recent event that still hurts and still bleeds.
Carl Zimmer the guest speaker of this broadcast states that in 1981 doctors described for the first time a new disease, a new syndrome which affected mostly homosexual men. The young men in Los Angeles were dying and the number of cases was growing faster and faster. The number of deaths was increasing from eighty to six hundred and twenty five in just the first few months. After the first few cases in LA, AIDS was declared to be one of the deadliest pandemics the world had ever seen after the plague in the Middle Ages.
Another guest speaker and guide in this podcast is David Quammen. He talks about how the epidemiologists were trying to figure out what this new disease was and how they were thinking that maybe it was a sexually transmitted disease. So, the CDC launched the study of a group of about thirty patients came from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco to see who had had sexual contact with who. They led as a series of interviews: “Please name all the people that you have had sex with”. After these surveys the CDC eventually released the results in the form of a diagram, like a network drive with circles representing patients and lines representing sexual contact. In each patient, each circle was numbered so that they could tell who is who. They noticed: New York seven, Los Angeles twelve etc… and soon they noticed a common denominator in this huge spider web of connections. One little circle, numbered zero: PATIENT ZERO. That was the first time they ever used the term patient zero.
In 1988, a reporter named Randy Schultz had written a book called “In the band played on” in which for the first the identity of patient zero was revealed: a French-Canadian named Gaetan Dugas. Schultz described him as a guy with unlimited sexual stamina; a very handsome sexual athlete who would fly from one hotspot to the next with his job (he was a flight attendant) and have sex with literally thousands of men although he knew he was dying.
According to Randy Schultz, Dugas became somewhat sinister and malicious. He would sleep with a male partner in a bathhouse in San Francisco or somewhere else and then when the lights came up he would say: “I've got gay cancer, and now you are going to get it too.”
Dr. Selma Dritz was part of the CDC study and one of the doctors that had talked to Dugas about the gravity of the situation. In an interview Dr. Dritz states: “I told him he was getting other people sick with it and he responded: “It is my civil right to do whatever I please. I’ve got it why shouldn’t they have it as well?” You can kill yourself if you want to but you have no right to take someone else with you. Dugas responded: Scr*w you! And walked out.” From that point on Dugas single-handedly was responsible...