Patient Zero: Man Wrongly Blamed for Bringing HIV to the United States

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Man Wrongly Blamed for Bringing HIV to the United States –

The New York Mag reports that Gaetan Dugas may have posthumously had his name cleared as “the man who brought AIDS to America.” Dugas was an openly gay flight attendant from Canada who was called “sexually promiscuous” by media headlines in the 1980s. The media grabbed hold of the Dugas story after it was revealed the flight attendant who had frequented the United States was diagnosed with Kaposi’s Sarcoma, a type of cancer frequently found in AIDS patients. Though doctors and scientists in the 1980s studying the Dugas case did not blame the flight attendant for bringing AIDS to America, the media did.

It’s not exactly clear how Dugas came to be known as Patient Zero, but many argue that journalist Randy Shilts’s 1987 book And the Band Played Onmay inadvertently be patient zero for the myth of Patient Zero. In that book, Shilts wrote that “there’s no doubt that Gaetan played a key role in spreading the new virus from one end of the United States to the other,” though Sciencemagazine’s Jon Cohen points out that Stilts did not explicitly (or implicitly) suggest that Dugas was the so-called “index case” for HIV in the UnitedStates.

If only media outlets at the time were so careful. In a piece for Science late last week, Cohen writes that after the publication of Stilts’s book, bothTime and the New York Post claimed rather straightforwardly that Dugas had triggered the epidemic; the latter even went so far as to publish a headline that screamed “THE MAN WHO GAVEUS AIDS.”

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