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 was a cumulative total of 270 reported cases of the “Gay cancer,” later called GRIDS (Gay Related Immuno Deficiency) which claimed 121 deaths in the United States.
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.