Tipping Point: Gaetan Dugas, the AIDS patient zero

Page 21 of The Tipping Point mentions Gaetan Dugas, the so-called AIDS patient zero:

    "...the French-Canadian flight attendant, who claimed to have 2,500 sexual partners in North America,
    and who was linked to at least 40 of the earliest cases of AIDS in California and New York..."

Assuming this time line of the AIDS epidemic is to be believed, I’m surprised that the transition from monkey to human happened in 1930 (ish). That’s about four decades earlier than I had assumed. I might follow that thread a little more in a separate post. AIDS was a traumatic experience as a child growing up in the very late 1970s, and through out the 1980s. I definitely remember being a quite scared 10 year old when the grim reaper advert campaign came to air.

It rather sounds to me like Gaetan has some fairly serious psychological problems. Now, I’m not judgemental of the fact that he liked to shag people, but surely there is a reasonable limit that should be imposed on the number of partners you should have at any one time, even without imposing my Christian perspective on it all. Perhaps I’m also tainted by having grown up in a post-AIDS world, and having been told an awful lot as a child than more than one partner at a time was dangerous. Then again, even if we ignore AIDS for a second, there have been other sexually transmitted diseases for a long time, and those would have been spread just as easily by Gaetan’s behaviour.

This quote from a recent reader of The Band Played On, which is apparently a discussion of the initial response to the AIDS epidemic (I haven’t personally read it, but perhaps I should consider adding it to my mound of unread books) drives that home:

    "Shilts concentrates on a few people who were central to the AIDS epidemic. One such person was a
    Quebecker Airline Steward by the name of Gaetan Dugas, the so-called Patient Zero. Dugas was not the
    first person to be infected with AIDS (or detected as such). But Dugas was seen as the reason why
    AIDS was able to spread like wildfire across countries and continents. Calling Dugas promiscuous is
    an understatement. It is said that he would indulge in several thousand partners from the late 1970s
    until 1984. When his condition became diagnosed as GRID (Gay Related Immuodeficiency Disease) or
    more popularly known then as "Gay Cancer" (as AIDS was known as before it became obvious that it was
    not just a gay disease), Dugas continued to sleep with random partners. He would even visit clubs and
    after finishing his interludes, would turn the lights up and boast he had passed the cancer onto his
    partner, ghoulishly exposing his Kaposi Sarcoma lesions and his gaunt face and body. Dugas would
    eventually become an outcast in the gay community, moving back to Canada where he continued his
    promiscuity there."

Now, I can’t understand how conservative denials of AIDS as a problem, or pronouncements that it was a gay only problem could possible help the situation, but let’s ignore that altogether as something which further examination isn’t really going to help.

It should be noted that Gaetan was not the first person to catch AIDS:

    "We will surely never know who or how, but we can speculate. There was a great deal of conjecture in
    the late 1980's about Patient Zero, identified as Gaetan Dugas - a Canadian flight attendant who
    purportedly knowingly infected as many as 250 men a year on both sides of the Atlantic - said to have
    singlehandedly started the epidemic, but most of this is now largely discredited. Anyhow, no one ever
    believed he was the first to be infected. Computer models have estimated that the first human
    infection occurred about 1930, give or take 20 years. The earliest known infection of an identified
    human being dates back to 1959, found in a plasma sample taken from an adult male living in the
    Belgian Congo (later Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). As to how, most of the loose
    talk on the street seems to assume sex between a human and a chimp, as the HIV-1 virus is almost
    identical to a simian virus found in chimpanzees. A human eating a chimp seems just as likely, and
    some evidence suggests that it may have occurred iatrogenically when chimps were used in developing a
    polio vaccine for humans. For more, see Annabel Kanabus and Sarah Allen's study at www.avert.org/origins.htm"
Professor William Dunlap, Quinnipiac Univ., Hamden, Connecticut USA

Gaetan was merely influential in the spreading of the disease amongst the gay community. It strikes me that it could just have easily been the promiscuous heterosexual community if someone like Gaetan had been that way inclined.

[tags: AIDS]