Article ID: CBB001420152

“Patient Zero”: The Absence of a Patient's View of the Early North American AIDS Epidemic (2014)


This article contextualizes the production and reception of And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts's popular history of the initial recognition of the American AIDS epidemic. Published over twenty-five years ago, the book and its most notorious character, Patient Zero, are in particular need of a critical historical treatment. The article presents a more balanced consideration---a patient's view---of Gaétan Dugas's experience of the early years of AIDS. I oppose the assertion that Dugas, the so-called Patient Zero, ignored incontrovertible information about the condition and was intent on spreading his infection. Instead I argue that scientific ideas in 1982 and 1983 about AIDS and the transmissibility of a causative agent were later portrayed to be more self-evident than they were at the time. The article also traces how Shilts's highly selective---and highly readable---characterization of Dugas rapidly became embedded in discussions about the need to criminalize the reckless transmission of HIV.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Book Richard Andrew McKay; (2017)
Patient Zero and the Making of the Aids Epidemic (/isis/citation/CBB093085222/)

Book Jacques Pépin; (2021)
The Origins of AIDS (/isis/citation/CBB084551418/)

Article Kazanjian, Powel; (2014)
The AIDS Pandemic in Historic Perspective (/isis/citation/CBB001420763/)

Book Frank M. Snowden; (2019)
Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (/isis/citation/CBB694307322/)

Book Geissler, Wenzel; Molyneux, Catherine; (2011)
Evidence, Ethos and Experiment: The Anthropology and History of Medical Research in Africa (/isis/citation/CBB001221465/)

Book Phillips, Howard; (2012)
Epidemics: The Story of South Africa's Five Most Lethal Human Diseases (/isis/citation/CBB001421023/)

Article Barreras, Ricardo E.; Torruella, Rafael A.; (2013)
New York City's Struggle over Syringe Exchange: A Case Study of the Intersection of Science, Activism, and Political Change (/isis/citation/CBB001500432/)

Article Benjamin Klassen; (2021)
‘Facing it Together’: Early Caregiving Responses to Vancouver's HIV/AIDS Epidemic (/isis/citation/CBB117851001/)

Book Alan Whiteside; (2017)
HIV & AIDS: A Very Short Introduction (/isis/citation/CBB155086702/)

Book Aliete Cunha-Oliveira; (2018)
Para uma história do VIH/Sida em Portugal e dos 30 anos da epidemia(1983-2013) (/isis/citation/CBB623405814/)

Book Dan Royles; (2020)
To Make the Wounded Whole: The African American Struggle against HIV/AIDS (/isis/citation/CBB139646090/)

Book Power, Jennifer; (2011)
Movement, Knowledge, Emotion: Gay Activism and HIV/AIDS in Australia (/isis/citation/CBB001212944/)

Article Cristiana Bastos; (2022)
The Never-Ending Poxes of Syphilis, AIDS, and Measles (/isis/citation/CBB599210149/)

Book Renilde Loeckx; (2017)
Cold War Triangle: How Scientists in East and West Tamed HIV (/isis/citation/CBB891292434/)

Book Brier, Jennifer; (2009)
Infectious Ideas: U.S. Political Responses to the AIDS Crisis (/isis/citation/CBB001200310/)

Chapter Herzlich, Claudine; (2000)
Between Stigmatization and Mobilization: AIDS in French Society (/isis/citation/CBB000102255/)

Book Nattrass, Nicoli; (2012)
The AIDS Conspiracy: Science Fights Back (/isis/citation/CBB001252724/)

Authors & Contributors
Herzlich, Claudine
Scheppele, Kim Lane
Brier, Jennifer M.
Power, Jennifer
Molyneux, Catherine
Geissler, P. Wenzel
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Health and History
Medical History
Journal of Social Issues
Gender and History
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
University of North Carolina Press
ANU E Press
Berghahn Books
Columbia University Press
Ohio University Press
Queen's University (Canada)
AIDS (disease); HIV / AIDS
Human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV)
Public health
Infectious diseases
Disease and diseases
Ladoo, Harold Sonny
Cassin, Frieda
Kincaid, Jamaica
Time Periods
20th century, late
20th century
21st century
19th century
18th century
South Africa
United States
New Zealand

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment