Viruses, Plagues, and History

By Michael B. A. Oldstone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 12

HUMAN
IMMUNODEFICIENCY
VIRUS -- "AIDS, THE
CURRENT PLAGUE"

A plague as bad as any ever known now afflicts us, and the cause is a virus, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The first description of HIV-infected patients appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981, in a paper that noted that four previously healthy homosexual men developed pneumonia from an infection caused by Pneumocystis carinii ( 1). The men also suffered fungal infections in the mouth and had multiple viral infections. This scenario of disease in persons with a low resistance to infection was consistent with the broad picture of an acquired deficiency of the immune system. The patients' infections by a variety of bacteria, fungi, and viruses produced prolonged fever and a marked reduction of cells now called the CD4+ subset of T lymphocytes ( 1). Together, these observations suggested the immune system had broken down, and the cause was an infectious agent. The name "acquired immunodeficiency syndrome" (AIDS) designated this pervasive disease state. Reports now described hundreds of cases involving homosexual men, intra-

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