Geneticists have traced the arrival of AIDS in America to a single person who came from Haiti in 1969.
In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, University of Arizona researchers analyzed archived blood samples from the first five U.S. AIDS patients. All were recent Haitian immigrants. The geneticists then looked at genetic sequences from another 117 people with HIV subtype B, the most common strain of the virus.
After assembling the sequences, the researchers modeled the probability of various HIV family trees. Did the virus go from Africa to the United States? The chance of that, they found, was just .003 percent. Did it go from Africa to Haiti and then to the U.S.? The chance of that was 99.8 percent — within the scope of the model, a near certainty.
They found that Haiti, which contains more HIV strains than any other country, likely served as a breeding ground for the disease between
1966 and 1969, at which point a single person carried it to the United
States. From there, the rest is tragic history.
The findings won’t directly produce cures or treatments. They might, however, give insight into how the disease evolved and spread — and that, in turn, could guide research. The next step: tracing the disease back from Haiti to central Africa, where researchers believe it was acquired by visiting Haitian workers.