Roger J Pomerantz; David L Horn


Nat Med. 2003;9(7) 

In This Article

1981: Recognition of the Existence of AIDS

In the early 1980s, before the discovery that AIDS was caused by a new immunodeficiency virus now known as HIV-1, most patients with AIDS died within 2 years.[1] Early in the course of this epidemic, therapy was restricted to the control of numerous, unusual and overwhelming opportunistic infections, which were often the proximate cause of death in patients with AIDS. In addition to the paucity of therapeutic options, there was very limited information available about this new and novel disease. A MEDLINE search of the medical literature in November 1982, for example, would have found only 94 citations (using AIDS and other related terminology as search terms).

In the early 1980s, without any diagnostic tests available, only a clinical diagnosis could be used to identify individuals afflicted with AIDS,[2] unusual opportunistic infections causing such diseases as Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, cryptococcal meningitis and Kaposi sarcoma in patients without a history of immunosuppression or known immune deficiency were the hallmarks. By 1985, as a result of the greater knowledge of recognizing and treating Pneumocystis pneumonia in those cities where AIDS was initially prevalent, longevity after a diagnosis of AIDS had increased to a limited degree. AIDS patients, however, suffered terribly and 85% of them died within 5 years of initial diagnosis.[1]