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Thirty years of AIDS in Washington, USA

Thirty years ago this month, the first cases of AIDS were identified by the medical community. It was still a mystery disease. A strange form of pneumonia was striking young men in Los Angeles. Since then, the epidemic has been a dramatic roller-coaster of death, disease, politics and what some people call the greatest medical success story of the past half century. 

(This interactive timeline is from the federal website. Click and scroll for dates and highlights.)

I sat down with Dr. Bob Wood, one of the most prominent local faces of AIDS and the fight to contain it, to discuss the highlights and low points. You can listen to the interview by clicking on "Audio."

Here are a few quotes from Dr. Wood.  Describing the early 1980's:

"We started seeing cases in Seattle in late 1982, about a year and a half after AIDS was first identified, [although] it wasn’t even called that at the time. Slowly, the cases started to accumulate. I had the first case referred to me at the end of '82, and then saw a fellow with swollen lymph nodes in places I didn't even know lymph nodes existed." "We had seen these sorts of things before in people with cancer. But now all of a sudden mostly gay men were losing weight, having to walk with walkers or get around in wheel chairs."

Looking ahead at the near future:

“I don’t know if we’ll have a vaccine in five or ten or fifteen, or maybe not for 50 years. So, really the only solution right now appears to be to try to get as many people on treatment as possible. And the costs of treatment are really pretty significant. I have HIV myself, and my total cost of treatment, for the drugs I'm on, is a little over $25,000 for 2010. ... “In developing countries, that’s not sustainable. ... So, there's a real problem in our ability to get treatment to people who are going to die as a result of not having it.”

Many organizations are offering retrospectives.  The Kaiser Family Foundation has its own timeline. And Seattle-area groups working on HIV/AIDS are developing their own highlights website.

Keith Seinfeld has been KPLU’s Health & Science Reporter since 2001, and prior to that covered the Environment beat. He’s been a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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