New York Magazine


Mysterious Illness Turns into an Epidemic

Two 37- year-old men are diagnosed at NYU Medical Center with Kaposi's sarcoma— a rare cancer known to affect only elderly men. There is no apparent connection between them. We learn later that both men had been intimate with French-Canadian flight attendant Gaetan Dugas. The Center for Disease Control will eventually name Gaetan "patient zero."

Two years later....
1981: "RARE CANCER SEEN IN 41 HOMOSEXUALS…Eight of the victims died less than 24 months after the diagnosis was made." —New York Times

"Patients have serious malfunctions of two types of cells called T and B cell lymphocytes. Researchers do not know whether the immunological defects were the underlying problem or had developed secondarily.."—New York Times

1982: CDC declares the newly named "A.I.D" (Acquired Immune Deficiency) an epidemic with 505 cases reported nationwide. New York City is the epicenter for the disease with 243 cases and gay men as its primary victims. The Gay Men's Health Crisis is founded.

"AIDS hit my little group very early on, and no one knew what it was. But it was very obvious what was causing it, and I said if you had a brain, you should start cooling it. And that made a lot of enemies" —Larry Kramer, author and gay rights activist