H. I. V. is a contentious issue for a variety of reasons. I’m not an epidemiologist or a historian, but it seems like there are many more S. T. D.s or S. T. I.s today than there were for most of human history. This is probably due to disease mutation. However, maybe there were always a lot, and most people just used to die from them without the majority of us hearing about it.
Regardless of the history of sexually transmitted diseases or infections, H. I. V. is one of the few that almost everyone has heard about. It seems like it became infamous during the 80s, which if I understand correctly, is when it spread through North America. Many people died from it, particularly before there were treatments. I know very little about the sheer, unadulterated suffering that those with this sickness have to go through. But from what I’ve heard, it sounds unimaginably horrifying.
Until recently, I went along with the story that many people have likely heard about how H. I. V. originated. Specifically, that the first person to get it was a guy who had sex with an ape! In retrospect, this seems unlikely and oversimplified. The most bizarre aspect of the story is that a guy had sex with an ape. There are clearly people who commit bestiality. But one guy subjecting the entire western world to such a traumatic infection because he fucked one sounds like an outrageous headline designed to sell paranoia.
Not long ago, I watched a documentary about the origin of H. I. V. that revealed their understanding of the complexity of the story. Apparently, the argument for a guy having sex with an ape didn’t come out of thin air. There was a grain of supposed truth to it. This documentary was fascinating because it examined multiple theories, including a few that are now widely regarded as crazy and wrong. One that is likely the source of the ape sex myth is that H. I. V. was first transmitted when Polio vaccinations in Africa were contaminated with chimpanzee blood. A large number of people have meticulously researched this, and there are various specious arguments for it. Journalists and scientists have written well-researched books about the subject that sound very convincing.
It turns out that apparently, this theory is bullshit. The original Polio vaccines in question were finally tested, and none of them contained any traces of H. I. V. The chimpanzee populations around that area of Africa were also examined, and their blood samples were not infected either. The Polio story is perhaps where the ape sex myth came from, but both are probably false.
So how did H. I. V. actually originate? It seems like the answer is complex. Although there are conflicting accounts, scientists have determined that the disease did come from chimpanzees. However, no serious pathologists or biomedical researchers appear to believe that humans were subjected to it due to someone having sex with an ape. The prevailing theory is that humans first got H. I. V. by hunting chimpanzees in Africa in the late 50s. So like I said, there are grains of truth to both of the outrageous arguments I mentioned, including the one involving Polio vaccines. Hunters got infected, rather than people looking for an inter-species good time. This is because in the Africa, people hunt chimpanzees for bush meat. That’s how they got exposed to infected blood. It also apparently happened in a different part of the continent, during a different time period than the one proposed by people in favour of the vaccine theory.
Interestingly, it used to be common knowledge that chimpanzees are immune to any negative side effects of H. I. V., including the fact that it doesn’t mutate into A.I.D.S. for them. However, scientists have discovered that there are different types of H. I. V. It is apparently true that the small difference in D.N.A. between humans and chimpanzees accounts for us getting sick and dying from it, and it mutating into A.I.D.S. Their different immune systems help prevent this from happening in many cases. However, it depends on the type of H.I.V. Most apes don’t suffer when they have it, and it doesn’t develop into A.I.D.S. But chimpanzees can get negative symptoms, A.I.D.S., and even get killed by certain strains of it. This is rare, but it does happen. Obviously, diseases mutate. But has this always happened in small numbers of chimpanzees? Or were they completely immune until it mutated more recently? I don’t know.
This is why science takes a hell of a lot of work. It’s also why in my opinion, we should never assume that we know the objective truth about these topics. The truth is almost always way more complex than we think. This of course extends to my amateur interpretations in this blog. But the important thing to remember is that rumours are frequently oversimplifications, and that science often uncovers complexities and reveals more questions. It can give us a good approximation of how H. I. V. originated, but the truth may be slightly altered in the future.
That’s one of my favourite aspects of science. It’s like the show called Lost. It’s fascinating, gets endlessly more complicated, and every answered question raises 10 more. When you’ve scoured every episode, there are so many things that you missed that you have to go back and examine it more carefully. You discover new information every time you watch it, and the ending is ambiguous. There’s much more certainty in science than fiction, but both can be phenomenally exciting. Like countless other questions, learning how H. I. V. originated is an awe-inspiring journey.