On June 5 1981, MMWR published a report of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five previously healthy young men in Los Angeles, California; two had died. This report later was acknowledged as the first published scientific account of what would become known as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Thirty years after that first report, the most recent estimate is that 33.3 million persons were living with HIV infection worldwide at the end of 2009.
In 1981 I was working on my PhD (on poliovirus) when I first heard about AIDS. Someone from the department came back from a trip to San Francisco with lurid and scary tales. Over the next couple of years, my interest in retroviruses grew and when I finished my PhD in 1984, I went off to California to work on HTLV and HIV.
In the United States, CDC estimates that 1,178,350 persons were living with HIV at the end of 2008, with 594,496 having died from AIDS since 1981. At this 30-year mark, efforts are being accelerated under the National HIV/AIDS Strategy of the United States, with goals of reducing the number of persons who become infected with HIV, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes for persons living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.
I worked on HIV for 10 years before moving on to other things. I still maintain a close interest in the topic. 30 years – it seems like yesterday.