In 1981, the first cases of Aids began to appear in California, United States. The disease, at that time a mysterious evil, manifested itself as an outbreak of rare diseases that began to worry the population.
Problems such as Kaposi’s Sacroma and certain types of lung infections were not as common, but they were affecting gay men in the region in large numbers.
The researchers suspected that an infectious disease was behind the events. The disease was baptized with pejorative and homophobic names, until it began to affect hemophiliacs and injecting drug users. It was then that the definitive name was adopted: Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
Two years after the first reports, French and American virologists identified the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, or HIV, and were able to compare AIDS with other diseases, mainly an epidemic that was ravaging West Africa.
The pathogen that causes the African disease was named HIV-2. It was not, however, similar to HIV-1, but rather to another virus that afflicts monkeys, gorillas and chimpanzees.
Despite their suspicions, it wasn’t until 1989 that experts confirmed that HIV-1 also resembled a simian virus called SIVcpz. HIV-1 is thought to have arisen from viruses of the chimpanzee species Pan troglodytes troglodytes.
Researchers believe HIV may have originated from chimpanzees (Source: Shutterstock)Fonte: Shutterstock
Still, it took almost 10 years to discover the place and time of origin of the infectious agent. Only when blood samples collected in 1959 were sequenced was the first recorded case of HIV-1 infection in history discovered.
The patient lived in what is now the city of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is not yet known how the pathogen was able to make the evolutionary leap necessary to infect us, but it may have been through consumption of the meat of these animals.
years of the pandemic
Approximately 77 million people around the world are living or have lived with HIV, one of the worst pandemics in recent history. In the early years, the disease spread among gay men, and because it is an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection), stigmas emerged that persist to this day.
Several social movements were created with the aim of giving visibility to neglected groups victimized by the disease. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was one of them.
Protest organized by Act Up in New York (Source: Wikimedia Commons/MACMILLAN)Source: Wikimedia Commons
Founded in New York in 1987, it was responsible for putting pressure on the American government in favor of patients. In addition, he proposed a new model for drug approval, allowing patients to have access to experimental drugs.
The search for a cure
The first drug approved for the treatment of HIV was zidovudine, or AZT, followed by similar retrovirals. In 1996, Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) was introduced. With three drugs a day, deaths from AIDS have dropped by 50% in the United States.
New drugs have emerged to circumvent the mutations and resistance that HIV has developed to AZT. In 2005, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) was introduced: a 28-day treatment that reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 80% for people who have come into contact with the pathogen.
In 2012, another leap. The use of Truvada for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, PrEP, which, taken once a day, protects against infection has been authorized. Today there are more than 30 drugs available on the market to fight the disease.
A carrier of the virus can maintain undetectable, non-transmissible levels of the pathogen with just one pill a day. And here in Brazil, the complete treatment is available free of charge through the SUS, including PEP and PrEP.