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AIDS 'entered US via Haiti'

30th October 2007

A US evolutionary biologist has advanced the theory that HIV first entered the United States via a single infected immigrant from Haiti.

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The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which ravages the immune system, was first recognised as a disease in 1981. It is now believed to have entered the US from Haiti as early as 1969, taking around 12 years to multiply invisibly before the epidemic was recognised in the 1980s.

According to Michael Worobey, of the University of Arizona, who led the recent study into the evolution of the AIDS epidemic, HIV infections were occurring in the United States for roughly 12 years before AIDS was first recognized by scientists as a disease in 1981. Many people had died by that point.

Scientists determined when HIV first arrived in the US by running a genetic analysis of stored blood samples from early AIDS patients.

The virus is thought to have been brought to the Caribbean Island by an infected person arriving from central Africa in about 1966, which is in line with earlier estimates.

Because it can take several years for a person infected with HIV to fall ill, the virus could have arrived and circulated in a big city like Miami or New York for years, eventually being carried out of the US into other countries.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analysed blood samples from Haitian immigrants who died of AIDS in Miami in the late 1970s, although it what had killed them wasn't confirmed until later.

Earlier studies suggest the virus first infected humans in central Africa in 1930, possibly via the food chain, as people ate infected chipanzee meat.

However, Worobey's study has dismissed the possibility that HIV entered the US directly from Africa.

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since then, and a further 40 million are infected with HIV.

 

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