A slight twist of events

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 10, 2002

I missed out on observing World AIDS Day on December 1st because I was traveling. Better late than never. While catching up on some of my favorite sites, I read the following on Melanie’s site about her stepbrother:

“Although he was considered part of a high-risk group, HIV is host agnostic. With just a slight twist of events, the virus could have first found its way into the straight communities of North America.”

One of the pivotal events in the spread of AIDS, at least in the US, was the activity of “Patient Zero”**, Gaetan Dugas. Dugas was a Canadian flight attendant who was among the first few people to bring AIDS to the US. What made him significant was his international travel and the large number of sexual encounters he had, about 250 per year according to his own accounts. Several early cases of AIDS were attributed to him, either directly or indirectly. It also happened that Dugas was homosexual, and due to the way that networks function, the gay men that he had sex with had sex with other gay men and so on until many people were infected. If Dugas had been straight and promiscuous, it might have been a “straight disease” instead.***

** After doing a little digging, there’s some contention as to whether there was a Patient Zero. Hmm….

*** It’s a little more complicated than this since the spread of diseases depend on many factors. For example, it would be interesting to know if there is any difference in the promiscuity of the partners of promiscuous homosexuals compared to that of promiscuous straight heterosexuals. That is, are the people that promiscuous heterosexuals sleep with more or less likely to spread the disease through their own promiscuity than the partners of promiscuous homosexuals?

Also, since Dugas was a homosexual, he probably got it from another homosexual who got it from another homosexual, etc. By the time it got to Dugas, AIDS was probably already established in the gay community; he just accelerated its progress.