History of the AIDS Epidemic

by | Jun 26, 2020 | SEXUALITY

This is a picture of cracked earth with a needle and the words HIV and AIDS.

History of HIV/AIDS

The history of the AIDS epidemic is wrought with pain. The HIV/AIDS virus entered The United States in 1970, beginning in New York City and making its way across the country to California, resulting in what we know today as the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.Today, it is understood that many people affected by HIV/AIDS go on to live relatively healthy and normal lives. However, this reality was not the public understanding and perspective when the virus originally wept the United States in the 1980s and 1990s.

Well known today, HIV is a virus that affects an individual’s immune system, killing the bodies CD4 cells, which makes it impossible for the body to attack and fight off infections and diseases. The virus is transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk. HIV is commonly spread through drug use in which needles are shared, unprotected sex, and child birth.

AIDS – An Epidemic

In 1981, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started publishing findings about gay men becoming infected with a virus that was compromising their previously healthy immune systems – though they did not yet label the virus as what we now know to be HIV/AIDS. A year following the CDC’s findings, a salacious article was published by the New York Times, in which they reported on a new immune system disorder that was impacting hundreds of gay men. Due to the specific community the disease was affecting, it was labeled gay-related immunity disorder, or GRID. The history of the AIDS epidemic perpetuated stigma, until the world started to challenge negative biases.

The CDC finally coined the name for the disease – AIDS – in 1982. In 1983, the public completely ran with this narrative of a “killer gay disease” even though the CDC was discovering that heterosexual women could also contract the disease via intercourse with their infected partner. Still, the terrified public labeled AIDS as a gay disease and even went as far as to call it “gay plague.” By the end of this year, AIDS had made its way to other European countries.

1984 was the year researchers found that HIV was the cause of the novel AIDS virus. Blood tests became available a year later via examination of blood, saliva, or urine. By 1985, AIDS was part of a full-blown medical panic with more than 20,000 reported cases and at least one case in every part of the world. In 1987, the first medication became available that aimed to prevent the virus from multiplying, limiting the chance of developing HIV-related cancers. As the decade came to an end, the United States reported 100,000 AIDS cases and the World Health Organization reported 400,000 cases across the world.

Emerging Awareness

By 1991, the public was developing more empathy and compassion for those who contracted AIDS. World AIDS Day was developed to garner more awareness as well as a red ribbon as the new symbol of AIDS awareness. The 90s was also the time when celebrities were coming out as HIV-positive as an attempt to bring compassion and awareness to the public. Two notable celebrities were prolific basketball player, Magic Johnson, and Queen front man, Freddie Mercury, who passed away not long after disclosing.

In 1995, hospitalizations began to decline thanks to advancements and developments to medications and therapeutic treatments. However, in 1999, the AIDs epidemic still sat at the 4th biggest cause of death in the world and was the 1st leading cause of death in Africa. Over the next decade, medical professionals and researchers continued to work towards exploring further medications and treatments and more political actions were made to attempt to destigmatize the disease that once was insensitively described as “gay plague.” One example being former president Barack Obama lifting a ban that prevented those with HIV from entering the United States.

PrEP – Medical Hope

In 2012, a new progressive medication came to the scene called PrEP. PrEP was so revolutionary at the time because it was the first medication that reduced the risk of sex-contracted HIV by 90%, if taken daily. It also protected from contraction via intravenous drug use by 70%. Since it’s development, PrEP has be widely tested and discovered to be entirely safe as a measure to significantly, if not entirely, protect against contracting AIDS.

By the end of 2017, around 37 million people worldwide were reported to be living with HIV/AIDS. Though it’s been through a long line of stigmatization and misunderstanding, those affected thankfully have safe and affective measure they can employ today to live comfortable and healthy lives.

Survivors of the AIDS Epidemic

Many watched their loved ones die from AIDS and stood by helpless to intervene. Esteemed colleague and Psychologist Dr. Jim Gigliello wrote this piece to detail the harrowing experience. Roughly 40 years after the AIDS virus took the world by surprise, safer sex practices, advances in medicine and awareness about the virus have contributed to a much different  landscape. But, Dr. Gigliello offers plenty to consider in this interview with our Founder, Dr. Kate Balestrieri.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.



Author Bio

Kayla Tricaso is the Office Manager and Patient Intake Specialist at Modern Intimacy. Passionate about mental health and social justice, Kayla spends her free time listening to true crime podcasts, reading and working on her personal memoir.



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