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This Day In Gay History: August 28, 1981 – The Day The AIDS “Epidemic” Officially Began


1981This Day In Gay History: August 28, 1981 - The Day The AIDS "Epidemic" Officially Began


This Day In Gay History:  August 28, 1981 – The Day The AIDS “Epidemic” Officially Began

On June 5, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describing cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles. All the men have other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems are not working; two have already died by the time the report is published.

After the Associated Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Times covered the story. doctors from across the U.S. flood CDC with reports of similar cases. Because of these reports on July 8th the CDC established a Task Force on Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections (KSOI) to identify risk factors and to develop a case definition for national surveillance.

In a “follow-up” report on August 28, 1981 the CDC  announced that an extremely rare form of cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS), and of pneumonia, Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia (PCP), were showing up at an epidemic rate among gay males. Of the cases reported since January of 1976, 94% of the men whose sexual preference was known were Gay. 40% of those cases proved to be fatal. Moreover, the number of cases seems to be increasing. 91% of the cases have occurred since January 1980, and the majority were from New York and California. Even more astonishing is the fact that some Gay men have come down with both these rare disease

By year-end, there is a cumulative total of 270 reported cases of “Gay cancer,” later called (GRIDS)(Gay Related Immuno Deficiency) and claims 121 deaths in the U.S.

And thus the AIDS epidemic officially begins.

Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, 60 million people have contracted HIV and 25 million have died of AIDS-related causes.  And its still not over.

NOTE:  The term AIDS was coined in 1982. HIV hadn’t been discovered yet, so there was no way to know whether people were sick until they were truly sick. Someone was said to have AIDS if he (and it was mostly men back then) developed one of a long list of opportunistic infections and cancers that don’t occur in people with healthy immune systems. After HIV was discovered and a test became available, being HIV-positive was added to the definition of AIDS.




Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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2 thoughts on “This Day In Gay History: August 28, 1981 – The Day The AIDS “Epidemic” Officially Began”

    1. Yes its just an image ref to the article that came about after the first DCD report in June leading up to the August revision that categorized it as an epidemic. Best graphic available.

      Good eye

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