February 20, 1953|
Quebec City, Quebec
|Died||March 30, 1984
Quebec City, Quebec
|Known for||Widely reported as patient zero for AIDS|
Gaëtan Dugas (French: [ɡaetɑ̃ dyˈɡa]; February 20, 1953 – March 30, 1984) was a Canadian and early AIDS patient who worked for Air Canada as a flight attendant. In March 1984, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study tracking the sexual liaisons and practices of gay and bisexual men in California, New York, and some other states found Dugas to be the center of a network of sexual partners, which led to his being dubbed "patient zero", although suspicions that he initially brought HIV to North America were disproven. He is used as an example in epidemiology of an index case.
Dugas traveled the world and had myriad sexual liaisons with other men. At the time, gay culture in some cultures was largely illegal, underground, and clandestine. Gay bars and gay bath houses were social settings for gay and closeted men to meet. The extent to which HIV/AIDS was known about in the early 1980s, how it was spread, or when Dugas was diagnosed are disputed.
"Patient Zero" hypothesis
A study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 1984 traced many early HIV infections to an unnamed infected gay male flight attendant. Epidemiologists hypothesized that Dugas had carried the virus out of Africa and introduced it into the Western gay community.
Dugas is featured prominently in Randy Shilts's book And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987), which documents the outbreak of the AIDS pandemic in the United States, and was portrayed by Jeffrey Nordling in the 1993 HBO film adaptation. Shilts portrays Dugas as having almost sociopathic behavior by allegedly intentionally infecting, or at least recklessly endangering, others with the virus. Dugas is described as being a charming, handsome sexual athlete who, according to his own estimation, averaged hundreds of sex partners a year. He claimed to have had over 2,500 sexual partners across North America since becoming sexually active in 1972.
Genetic analysis of HIV provides some support for the Patient Zero theory. Dugas is now believed to be part of a cluster of homosexual men who traveled frequently, were extremely sexually active, and died of AIDS at a very early stage in the epidemic.
However, a number of authorities have since voiced reservations about the implications of the CDC's Patient Zero study and characterizations of Dugas as being responsible for bringing HIV to cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the Patient Zero study, the average length of time between sexual contact and the onset of symptoms was 10 1⁄2 months. While Shilts's book does not make such an allegation, the rumor that Dugas was the principal disseminator of the virus became widespread. In 1988, Andrew R. Moss published an opposing view in the New York Review of Books.
A November 2007 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that HIV was introduced to Haiti from Africa in 1966, and from Haiti to the United States in 1969. These findings appear to dismiss the Patient Zero hypothesis as it is popularly conceived—e.g. that Dugas was responsible for introducing the HIV virus to North America.
As of May 2016[update], a group of researchers led by evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey, PhD, conducted a genetic study that looked at blood samples taken from gay and bisexual men in 1978 and 1979 as part of a hepatitis B study and based on the results of the data concluded that Dugas is not the source of the virus in the U.S. "On the family tree of the virus, Dugas fell in the middle, not at the beginning. “Beliefs about Patient Zero,” Worobey concludes, “are unsupported by scientific data."
- (French) "La découverte de la maladie — Sida, les premières années" [Discovering the illness — AIDS, the first years]. Radio-Canada. 17 January 1992. Archived from the original on 18 August 2004.
- Auerbach, D.M.; W.W. Darrow, H.W. Jaffe, and J.W. Curran (1984). "Cluster of cases of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Patients linked by sexual contact". The American Journal of Medicine 76 (3): 487–92. doi:10.1016/0002-9343(84)90668-5. PMID 6608269.
- “Patient Zero”: The Absence of a Patient’s View of the Early North American AIDS Epidemic
- Gaétan Dugas and the 'AIDS Mary' myth"Gaétan Dugas, the gorgeous French-Canadian flight attendant who hopped cities as easily as he hopped beds."
- Shilts, Randy (1988). And The Band Played On. Penguin. p. 439. ISBN 0-14-011130-1.
- Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Tipping Point. Little Brown. p. 21. ISBN 0-316-34662-4.
- Kuiken, C; Thakallapalli R, Esklid A, de Ronde A (2000-11-01). "Genetic analysis reveals epidemiologic patterns in the spread of human immunodeficiency virus". American Journal of Epidemiology (Los Alamos National Laboratory) 152 (9): 814–22. doi:10.1093/aje/152.9.814. PMID 11085392.
- Moss, Andrew R. (December 8, 1988). "AIDS Without End". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved December 2, 2006.
- The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the Americas and beyond.
- Straube, Trenton (2016-05-16). "Mapping Out Early AIDS in the U.S.". POZ. Retrieved 2016-06-05.
- Halifax Rainbow Encyclopedia page for Dugas—he lived in Halifax for several years.
- Gaëtan Dugas at Find a Grave
- AidsVancouver - archive footage of Gaetan Dugas speaking at an Aids Vancouver forum (beginning at ~5:45)
-  - AIDS virus invaded U.S. from Haiti (News Article)
- ‘Patient Zero’ no more - study reported in Science Magazine (Vol. 351, Issue 6277, pp. 1013), American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (Article)