What we now call AIDS since 1982 was described for the first time in the summer of 1981. The Center for Epidemic Surveillance in the United States (CDC) noted a striking increase in otherwise unusual disease states. It was a cluster of unexplained cases in young, previously healthy men of a particular type of pneumonia (PCP) and a form of tumor (Kaposi’s sarcoma). The common denominator for both diseases was a severely weakened immune system.
Right from the start, there was much to suggest that the immune deficiency in these men was an expression of an epidemic, caused by a new infectious agent. Most patients reported in the first year were gay or bisexual men. Therefore, the condition was initially called “gay related immunodeficiency (GRID)”, i.e. immunodeficiency that was considered to be connected with male homosexuality and the lifestyle of such men. But already among the patients described in the first twenty months, there were people who were not homosexual men. There were people who had used intravenous drugs, who had received blood transfusions, who had received factor preparations for hemophilia, and men and women from Haiti. And not least important: people who had been a sexual partner of someone in these groups.
It was thus already clear in 1982 that the described disease states needed to have a name that did not so obviously wrongly attribute them to a certain sexual behavior: sex between men. In the fall of 1982, the disease was therefore called “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome”. Acquired because the condition, unlike most previously known forms of immunodeficiency, was not congenital but acquired by a person with a previously normal immune system. Immune deficiency because the patient’s immune system functioned increasingly poorly and this made the affected vulnerable to various types of infections and some tumor forms. In the common language, the abbreviation “AIDS” came to be used. During 1983 and 1984, the first articles on AIDS in Central and East Africa were published. The image of AIDS as a sexually transmitted disease, which can also be spread through blood, became clearer. It became even more clear that the underlying infectious agent spreads between men and women as well as between men – although this fact was met with great resistance and denial.
Already in 1983, a French research group found the underlying cause of the syndrome that constitutes AIDS, when it discovered a new virus that was given the name LAV. This newly discovered virus was considered by the French researchers to belong to a type of virus called lentivirus, which was previously only known to cause disease in animals but not in humans. In animals, similar viruses can damage the immune system and nervous system. This new virus was also found to be able to do this in humans. In 1984, two American research groups described and named their virus, one HTLVIII, the other ARV, which they believed to be the cause of AIDS. However, these viruses soon turned out to be the same viruses described by the French group. After a few years of disputes about who really discovered the virus and what it should be called, it was agreed in 1986 to call the virus that was behind the immunodeficiency in AIDS the human immunodeficiency virus, abbreviated to HIV. Human because it causes disease in humans,
immunodeficiency virus because it leads to a damaged immune system. In 2008, Luc Montagnier and Francoise Barré-Sinoussi received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of HIV.