HIV traced back to Congo, 1959
Conspiracy theories be damned, said AIDS
star Dr. David Ho. A study he cowrote in February's Nature
asserts that HIV reared its ugly head in Central Africa in the late
'40s -- not in an American germ-warfare lab as the KGB once claimed
and as Louis Farrakhan still does. The search for signs of HIV in
1,213 long-frozen blood samples turned up the earliest known case in
a Bantu man who died in the Belgian Congo in 1959. There are now an
estimated 20 million HIVers in the region.
"This is the oldest, totally unambiguous look at HIV," said Dr.
Simon Wain-Hobson, of Paris' Pasteur Institute. A genetic analysis
revealed that the sample resembles a forebear of several of the 10
distinct HIV subtypes (lettered A to J) found worldwide. In the
developing world, B is the dominant strain; D is most common in
Africa. "This is no doubt an ancestor of B and D," Ho said.
The finding is of more than just historic interest, since it
allows researchers to eyeball HIV's decades-long evolution from
parasite to plague. "This snapshot may help HIV vaccine efforts," Ho
said, "because we can reasonably predict how the virus will evolve."