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HIV Patient Zero Cleared by Science

HIV Patient Zero Cleared by Science

One of the most demonised patients in history – Gaetan Dugas – has been convincingly cleared of claims he spread HIV to the US, say scientists. Mr Dugas, a homosexual flight attendant, gained legendary status in the history of HIV/Aids when he became known as Patient Zero. But a study, in the journal Nature, showed he was just one of thousands of infected people in the 1970s. It also showed New York was a crucial hub for the spread of the virus. Aids only started to be recognised in 1981 when unusual symptoms started appearing in gay men. But researchers were able to look further back in time by analysing stored blood samples, some of them containing HIV, from hepatitis trials in the 1970s. The team at the University of Arizona developed a new method to reconstruct the genetic code of the virus in those patients. And after screening 2,000 samples from New York and San Francisco, the researchers were able to get eight complete HIV genetic codes. That gave scientists the information they needed to build HIV’s family tree and trace when it arrived in the US. Dr Michael Worobey, one of the researchers, said: “The samples contain so much genetic diversity that they could not have originated in the late 1970s. “We can place the most precise dates on the origins of the US epidemic at about 1970 or 1971.” The researchers also analysed the genetic code of human immunodeficiency virus taken from Mr Dugas’s blood. Like a failed paternity test, the results showed that the virus in his blood was not the “father” of the US...
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