TIMELINE: Key events in the history of HIV

From the start of the Aids epidemic in 1981, here are 10 key dates in the history of the disease.


First alert 

On June 5, 1981, US epidemiologists report the first deaths among young homosexuals from a mysterious immune-wrecking disease later named acquired immune deficiency syndrome (Aids).

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) later identifies the same infections among injected drug users (late 1981), haemophiliacs (mid 1982) and Haitian residents in the US (mid 1982).

The term Aids appears in 1982.


Identifying HIV

In January 1983, researchers in France, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Jean-Claude Chermann under the direction of Luc Montagnier, identify the virus that “might be” responsible for Aids.

It is dubbed LAV.

The next year, US specialist Robert Gallo is said to have found the “probable” cause of Aids, a retrovirus dubbed HTLV-III.

The two viruses turn out to be one and the same, and in May 1986 it becomes officially known as the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV.



On March 20, 1987, the first anti-retroviral treatment known as AZT is authorised in the US.

It is expensive and has many side effects.


First Aids day

December 1, 1988 is established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the first World Aids Day.

In June 1989 the number of Aids cases worldwide is estimated at more than 150,000.

Early 90s

Falling stars

 US actor Rock Hudson is the first high-profile Aids victim in October 1985.

 In the early 1990s other stars succumb to the disease, notably British singer Freddie Mercury in November 1991 and Russian dancer-choreographer Rudolf Nureyev in January 1993.

The next year, Aids becomes the leading cause of death among US citizens aged 24-44.


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