As the number of deaths soared, medical experts scrambled to find a cause and more importantly a cure. In 1984, Institut Pasteur of France discovered what they called the HIV virus, but it wasn't until a year later a US scientist, Dr. Robert Gallo confirmed that HIV was the cause of AIDS.
Following this discovery, the first test for HIV was approved in 1985. Over the next several years medications to combat the virus were developed as well as medicines to prevent infections that flourish when the immune system is damaged by HIV and AIDS. By the end of 1987, there were 71,000 confirmed cases of AIDS, resulting in over 40,000 deaths.
So where are we today? Thanks to an ever-changing array of new anti-retroviral drugs and improved funding for early medical care, AIDS related deaths in the US are declining. People are healthier and living longer. But, in other parts of the world, the AIDS epidemic rages on. Some estimate that 40 percent of persons in the sub-Sahara region of Africa are HIV infected. Many of these people don't realize they are infected, resulting in the infection of others, adding to the spread of the disease. Another grim reminder of the epidemic is the number of African children orphaned by AIDS. Streets are clogged with children who have lost their parents to AIDS, have no food, and no place to go. And with no money available for expensive HIV drugs, the epidemic is expected to get much worse, with estimates of 20,000,000 infected over the next 5 years.
Could anyone have foreseen that the mysterious illness affecting a few gay men in 1981, would become the epidemic of the 20th. century? We have made much progress, but still so much needs to be learned. Until then the epidemic continues.