The New York Times reports on a newly released book, The Origin of Aids by Dr. Jacques Pepín that investigates the initial outbreaks of HIV and tries to explain how different strains of the virus broke out of a localized state and became global while others remain endemic to certain regions. Using a back of the envelope calculation, at least how the article explains it, Dr. Pepín found fault with the idea that after an initial species cross-over of SIV from chimpanzees into humans, the disease spread primarily through sexual transmission. According to the article, this wouldn't have allowed for the explosion in cases and the unique nature of certain strains. Instead, Pepín theorizes, with medical records of patients treated for various tropical diseases to back his claims, that aggressive efforts by colonial doctors to treat diseases with injections of antibiotics, coupled with contamination of plasma and blood banks, played a significant role in creating a large enough population of infected people in Africa to create a sustained reservoir.
These “amplifiers” inadvertently allowed the virus to become the pandemic that it is today, and Pepin argues that evidence for their strong role in HIV's spread can be seen in the geographic diversity of current strains. For instance HIV M subgroup B, which is an obscure strain in central Africa, is endemic to Haiti and much of the Western Hemisphere. Pepín argues that the likely number of infected Haitians returning from the Congo, the cradle of the disease, could not have sustained the virus on their own, but instead that a plasma bank notorious for poor practices amplified the virus, creating a foothold for the epidemic seen today.
Though cliché, it's true that hindsight is 20/20 and there's a certain degree of irony that in trying to save patient's lives, doctors may have accidentally created the HIV pandemic. Whether or not this is how it actually happened, this possibility should serve as a warning for the future and a cautionary story of how quickly human factors can exponentially increase a virus' threat to global health.
New York Times Article:
" Chimp to Human to History Books- The Circuitous Path of AIDS"