New research proves that Gaétan Dugas, the gay man posthumously blamed in the media for the spread of HIV across North America, was not the "Patient Zero" of the virus.
The study, conducted by a historian from the University of Cambridge and a specialist team of U.S. scientists, revealed that the very concept of "Patient Zero" was an idea created back in the early years of investigating the reasons for the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.
Before dying, the patient gave investigators significant personal information, to assist them in understanding the way AIDS was caused and transmitted.
According to the research, everything started from the confusion between a letter and number.
The recent study, published in the journal Nature, compared the sample serum, from the patient formerly known as "Patient Zero," with eight others from the 1970s.
"Gaétan Dugas is one of the most demonized patients in history, and one of a long line of individuals and groups vilified in the belief that they somehow fuelled epidemics with malicious intent," explained Richard McKay, a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow from Cambridge's Department of History and Philosophy of Science.
The reason Dugas was thought to be "Patient Zero" goes back to the period when the first AIDS tests were performed. In 1982, when sexual relationships of gay men were first connected with the AIDS epidemic in Los Angeles, a series of investigations started to be performed.
Among the first links marked the epicenter of the disease in Southern California. However, there was a patient named "Case 057" who traveled with an airline company on a regular basis. As it was proven, some of the patients could be tracked back to him as former sexual partners.
The cases in Los Angeles were labeled "LA1," "LA2," and so on, while the ones in New York were named "NY1," "NY2" and so on. However, the airline traveler being neither from Los Angeles nor New York, was named "Outside-of-California." The case name shortly changed from "Case 057" to "Case O" for easier reference.
As some other cases under investigation were numbered, the nickname soon began to change from "O" to "0" due to a confusion.
"'Zero' is a capacious word. It can mean nothing. But it can also mean the absolute beginning," completed McKay.
As many patients weren't aware they had contracted and transmitted the infection at their turn, the research performed could only analyze the number of patients who exhibited the symptoms of the deadly disease. However, up until today, there is no proof that "Patient Zero" had anything to do with the epidemic.
Moreover, according to this new research, far from being the very cause of the AIDS' spread, Dugas wasn't even one of the most important leads among the patients who had caught the disease.