Williamsport, Pa — The Coronavirus pandemic is not the only virus which has upended the lives of countless millions.
On June 5, 1981, Americans heard the first rustlings of what soon became known as the AIDS epidemic. Few could have predicted the widespread havoc this new virus was about to have on the world.
It has been 40 years since an article published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report stated five previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles were suddenly very sick with a rare lung infection.
Not long after this was published, there were reports of more gay men in hospitals who were diagnosed with Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia, Kaposi’s Sarcoma and other opportunistic infections.
The phrase “gay cancer” was printed the next month in a New York Times article, which set the tone across the nation that this virus only affected gay men.
In May 1982, the virus was called “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency” or “GRID”, which perpetuated the idea that it exclusively affected the gay community. As more doctors and scientists began learning about this virus, they discovered it also affected many heterosexual people, hemophiliacs, people using intravenous drugs and sex workers.
The term “AIDS” or “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” became the official name of the virus in November 1982. Even though the name was changed, the stigma stayed the same. HIV stigma is still prevalent today despite the wealth of information available about the virus.
The early years were incredibly difficult for people who feared they would get sick or lose a loved one to AIDS-related illnesses. While people were fighting for their lives, former President Ronald Reagan remained silent. He did not publicly speak about AIDS until September 1985. During his years of inaction, thousands of people had been diagnosed with AIDS and had died.
“It has been four decades since the HIV epidemic began in the United States. June 5, 1981, marks the day the CDC published an article about 5 young gay men hospitalized with similar symptoms. Looking back on these last 40 years, there have been difficult times, but there have also been many scientific breakthroughs that changed everything for people living with HIV,” according to Megan Bloom, head of public relations for Aids Resource, which has offices in Williamsport and State College.