33 Years Ago an Unknown Killer Stalked the Land


From the New York Times on July 3, 1981:


Doctors in New York and California have diagnosed among homosexual men 41 cases of a rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer. Eight of the victims died less than 24 months after the diagnosis was made.

The cause of the outbreak is unknown, and there is as yet no evidence of contagion. But the doctors who have made the diagnoses, mostly in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area, are alerting other physicians who treat large numbers of homosexual men to the problem in an effort to help identify more cases and to reduce the delay in offering chemotherapy treatment.

The sudden appearance of the cancer, called Kaposi’s Sarcoma, has prompted a medical investigation that experts say could have as much scientific as public health importance because of what it may teach about determining the causes of more common types of cancer. First Appears in Spots

Doctors have been taught in the past that the cancer usually appeared first in spots on the legs and that the disease took a slow course of up to 10 years. But these recent cases have shown that it appears in one or more violet-colored spots anywhere on the body. The spots generally do not itch or cause other symptoms, often can be mistaken for bruises, sometimes appear as lumps and can turn brown after a period of time. The cancer often causes swollen lymph glands, and then kills by spreading throughout the body.

Doctors investigating the outbreak believe that many cases have gone undetected because of the rarity of the condition and the difficulty even dermatologists may have in diagnosing it.

In a letter alerting other physicians to the problem, Dr. Alvin E. Friedman-Kien of New York University Medical Center, one of the investigators, described the appearance of the outbreak as ”rather devastating.”

Dr. Friedman-Kien said in an interview yesterday that he knew of 41 cases collated in the last five weeks, with the cases themselves dating to the past 30 months. The Federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is expected to publish the first description of the outbreak in its weekly report today, according to a spokesman, Dr. James Curran. The report notes 26 of the cases – 20 in New York and six in California.

There is no national registry of cancer victims, but the nationwide incidence of Kaposi’s Sarcoma in the past had been estimated by the Centers for Disease Control to be less than six-one-hundredths of a case per 100,000 people annually, or about two cases in every three million people. However, the disease accounts for up to 9 percent of all cancers in a belt across equatorial Africa, where it commonly affects children and young adults.

In the United States, it has primarily affected men older than 50 years. But in the recent cases, doctors at nine medical centers in New York and seven hospitals in California have been diagnosing the condition among younger men, all of whom said in the course of standard diagnostic interviews that they were homosexual. Although the ages of the patients have ranged from 26 to 51 years, many have been under 40, with the mean at 39.

Nine of the 41 cases known to Dr. Friedman-Kien were diagnosed in California, and several of those victims reported that they had been in New York in the period preceding the diagnosis. Dr. Friedman-Kien said that his colleagues were checking on reports of two victims diagnosed in Copenhagen, one of whom had visited New York. Viral Infections Indicated

No one medical investigator has yet interviewed all the victims, Dr. Curran said. According to Dr. Friedman-Kien, the reporting doctors said that most cases had involved homosexual men who have had multiple and frequent sexual encounters with different partners, as many as 10 sexual encounters each night up to four times a week.

Many of the patients have also been treated for viral infections such as herpes, cytomegalovirus and hepatitis B as well as parasitic infections such as amebiasis and giardiasis. Many patients also reported that they had used drugs such as amyl nitrite and LSD to heighten sexual pleasure.

Cancer is not believed to be contagious, but conditions that might precipitate it, such as particular viruses or environmental factors, might account for an outbreak among a single group.

The medical investigators say some indirect evidence actually points away from contagion as a cause. None of the patients knew each other, although the theoretical possibility that some may have had sexual contact with a person with Kaposi’s Sarcoma at some point in the past could not be excluded, Dr. Friedman-Kien said.

Dr. Curran said there was no apparent danger to nonhomosexuals from contagion. ”The best evidence against contagion,” he said, ”is that no cases have been reported to date outside the homosexual community or in women.”

Dr. Friedman-Kien said he had tested nine of the victims and found severe defects in their immunological systems. The patients had serious malfunctions of two types of cells called T and B cell lymphocytes, which have important roles in fighting infections and cancer.

But Dr. Friedman-Kien emphasized that the researchers did not know whether the immunological defects were the underlying problem or had developed secondarily to the infections or drug use.

The research team is testing various hypotheses, one of which is a possible link between past infection with cytomegalovirus and development of Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

On the day that article appeared my first child was one week old. We didn’t know it yet but AIDS was already an epidemic. That deadly disease didn’t even have a name but it had been spreading for years.

It is estimated that over 35 million people worldwide are currently HIV positive, but thanks to advances in medicine a diagnosis is no longer an automatic death sentence.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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44 Responses to 33 Years Ago an Unknown Killer Stalked the Land

  1. The Klown says:

    You can expect the Progs to react to this news with their usual class and maturity.

    • Mt.Laurel says:

      Even though she did not always agree with their positions, my mother still misses the Trib. She is very fond of their political cartoonist Bish.

      Mom has always had an intense dislike for the Washington Post. Does not care for the NY Times either. If something comes up and she wants to read a paper, I go to the bookstore or newsstand and buy one from out of the area. Last time she asked was with the new pope. I made sure I picked a few that did not try to defame the man before the smoke had time to clear.

  2. threewickets says:

    Big presidential election in Indonesia next week, the world’s largest Muslim country. The leftish guy who looks like Obama is leading.

  3. votermom says:

    Happy Independence Day, y’all!

  4. lildoggy4u says:

    Thank you for publishing this bit of history. You have no idea what it was like to have crossed out every single name in your address book when you are only 29 years old because they have all died. I thank god every day for the researchers, doctors and scientists who have made this a manageable disease. Its unfortunate that our youngest people now don’t see it as the threat that it still is though since they haven’t experienced the slaughter we older guys did.
    One part of this history that’s never been told is that it was Lesbians who came to our rescue providing support and activism while we men were so vulnerable and very much discriminated against.

    • leslie says:

      It was a hard and horrible time. I, too, lost friends and favorite family members to this horrid disease. My cousin, when he was dying, shared stories of those who had made his life more tolerable. And yes, Lesbians were at the top of his gratitude list. I would never want any people to go through the fear and sorrow that we did. But they will most likely never appreciate the gift of life the medical profession has given us, either.

    • Constance says:

      Who else would rescue vulnerable men but women.

  5. leslie says:

    Happy Fourth to all.
    Hope any and everyone affected by Arthur is safe and sound.

  6. DandyTIger says:

    Happy 4th! Looks like Arthur was too drunk to do much damage.

  7. mothy67 says:

    I cannot judge others but I was a teen(17) at Purdue away at college when Ryan White was a big story. I had a huge yellow walk man and I went to bed every night with self hypnosis tapes. I just wanted to fit in. I transfered to Temple after freshman year and just wanted to breathe. Philly was so different. I got a job working at Hotel atop the Bellview as a room service attendant. Such a wierd time Bush the first stayed and I had to deliver to his room. HEe was supposed to be out of the room but he came strolling in. Nice guy Outsid,e people were carrying coffins and calling him a murderer. He struck me as just a guy. Moved to New York and saw stuff I could not believe. I grew up Catholic and I know my morals saved my life. Fuck away go to a bath house snort poppers. I cannot judge because a part of me wishes I could be so free. Never going to happen. I am unable to touch someone and not consider what it means.. There was a time when reckless abandonment was the norm and sadly it is on the rise.
    It is different world now kids do not get pissed on and stage suicide but all things come with a price. Gay Whoppers so what. Who is telling these kids to be safe.

    • votermom says:

      I grew up Catholic and I know my morals saved my life.

      I’m glad you stayed safe, mothy.

      Thankfully AIDs never became an epidemic in my home country despite the sex tourism industry and a thriving gay subculture. Some people think it’s be because of the very high circumsicion rates, and possibly being predominantly Catholic is also a factor.

  8. lildoggy4u says:

    Before I go to work: Happy 4th of July to everybody. Have fun and remember what we are celebrating. Independence Day. Why doesn’t the media ever mention we Independents instead of Democrats vs Rebublicans, Liberals vs Conservatives. Are they scared of us?

  9. mothy67 says:

    AIDS sucks. But I want to give props to one of the best I have ever known. I got a job working as a waiter at The Rose Cafe. Fifth Avenue and 9th St. Special time. My boss was Suzanne Malloul who was the junky lover of Jean Michelle Basquiat another’s father was editor at large for ThecNation. Then there was a guy who had been gay and so was his wife. They met and became straight his grandfater was ralph waite of the Waltons. Anywho I got the job there and my direct boss was a guy named Vincent. He was the best boss ever. He had been with a guy for twenty years and Charlie was dying. I was so young and so afraid but fucking Vincent with his nasty breath was always a daddy to a bunch of kids. I knew not how to talk to him I had no words. So I decided I would put a smile on his face 3x times when we worked together. We all got fired but I was walking on the East Side one day after seeing Princess Carabou and there was VIncent. He gave me a hug said thank you and asked me to leave it at that. WOW.
    Suzanne turned me on to heroine. I never shot but snorted. She was an illegal from Canada when Reagan gave amnesty.. She is now an MD. The Julian Schnabel film about Basquiat is a composite.

  10. The Klown says:
  11. lyn says:

    Happy Fourth of July!

  12. leslie says:

    I’ve been waiting to post this but I have to leave. Everyone have a great day!
    Thanks, lyn, for starting this . . .

  13. elliesmom says:

    I live in the heart of the beginning of the Revolution. I walk Ellie over the Old North Bridge. The Acton Minutemen sponsored my Girl Scout troop. In exchange for using their meetinghouse, the girls in my troop dressed in colonial garb and helped chase the Redcoats back to Boston every Patriots’ Day. Each of the reenactors was well-versed in the history of his character, and my girls learned their local history very well. I’m watching what could be a very good show about the American Revolution on the History Channel. Apparently they have succumbed to “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” William Dawes and Samuel Prescott warned the people of Concord the British soldiers were coming to get their ammunition. No one wrote a poem about them, though. And they didn’t yell, “The British are coming!” because the colonials were British, too.

    This is trivial compared to your post about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, but I think it’s important because it shows how important it is for those of us who are living the history to leave the truth behind us. We don’t know who the keeper of the “official record” will be and what agenda will color what people in the future will accept as the truth. Washington Irving left behind a legacy that has people believing Columbus sailed to prove the earth is round- something the general population knew thousands of years before. “Legends” are strong Kool-aid.

  14. 1539days says:

    The medically interesting thing is that we’ve learned a lot about how viruses affect cancers. HPV vaccines and colon screenings go even beyond early detection. It’s strange how Kaposi’s Sarcoma became the killer that was let in by AIDS. In most of the population it shows up in old men in their 70s and 80s. Apparently, a functioning immune system is the difference between a slow growing cancer and a rapid fatal disease.

    The US has held AIDS at bay with prevention and any number of drug treatments. It is still unfortunately destroying sub-Saharan Africa.

  15. foxyladi14 says:

    • Constance says:

      I like this song so much better than the Star Spangled Banner, I can actually sing it. Are people who have great singing ability even aware that normal people can’t sing the Star Spangled Banner? If you are going to have an national anthem and you are going to constantly invite people to join in and sing it, and even imply that they are unpatriotic if they don’t, then for God sake pick something singable by the masses. If I try to sing the SSB people turn around and stare at me.

      • elliesmom says:

        I’ve always thought “America, the Beautiful” would be a good choice. But today you’d have some people objecting to God shining his grace on us, and the sisterhood objecting to the brotherhood term, and the race-baiters saying there is no brotherhood between whites and blacks from sea to shining sea. The folks objecting to the Redskins would probably want something in there about how we stole the continent. And the food police would want the song to be gluten-free.

      • leslie says:

        It is so true that the National Anthem is difficult. When my daughter auditioned for the children’s chorus at Lyric Opera, she was allowed to sing one song of her choosing after she sang the National Anthem. All the kids had to. So after she sang the anthem, she sang something from “Annie”. She said she wanted to have fun. She was a girl, right?

        • Constance says:

          Someone should write a suitable short anthem to the “99 bottles of beer on the wall” song. Then people would really join in and sing it! Imagine thousands of voices joining in to sing at the start of every sport event!

  16. The Klown says:

    Dialing it in:

    According to Politico, Obama’s Italian dinner party illustrates the paradox of his second term. “Stymied at home and abroad, Obama recognizes that he is less in control of the Washington agenda than ever in his presidency,” write Budoff Brown and Epstein. “Yet his newfound realism has also given him a palpable sense of liberation.” I find nothing paradoxical about Obama’s recent pattern of behavior, nothing mysterious about the golfing, partying, traveling. It is quite obvious: Obama has given up.

    He knows that his agenda is now limited to executive orders and bureaucratic regulation, and that even these measures are likely to be in the courts for years. He knows that his foreign policy agenda of engagement with the enemies of America will prove controversial and unpopular. He knows his staff has been ducking-and-covering ever since Lois Lerner announced the IRS had targeted Tea Party groups, and that they have been playing defense through Edward Snowden and Syria and Healthcare.gov and Crimea and the VA and now Bowe Bergdahl. He knows there is a chance that the Republicans will control Congress next January, and he has said, according to Politico, that this “would make his last two years in office unbearable.”

    Obama, Politico says, is “giving more thought to his post-presidency than his aides like to suggest.” But there is nothing really for Obama to think about. His ambitions in this office, just like his ambitions at Harvard, in New York, in Chicago, and in the Senate, are now exhausted. America has disappointed him, and it is time to look to the next challenge worthy of Barack Obama. His post-presidency has already begun.

    He has decided to relax. He has decided to fill his remaining days getting the most out of his presidential experience. The free travel and lodgings and security escort, the access to good tee times, the ability to get a reservation wherever and whenever he wants, the chance to meet VIPs who will flatter and ingratiate themselves to him—he is enjoying these perks and privileges to the utmost. His motto is not YOLO. It is YOPO: You’re only president once. Why not savor it?

    Obama is golfing more than at any point in his term. In March, as Vladimir Putin launched the newest phase of his quest to recreate the Russian Empire, some in the White House had the temerity to suggest that it might not be a good idea to fly to Key Largo for a long weekend of golf and relaxation. Obama disagreed. “Obama sticks to Florida vacation schedule,” read one headline. This was one commitment on which the president would not renege. “I needed this,” he told guests, including his new friend Alonzo Mourning, over dinner at the Ocean Reef Club. “I needed the golf. I needed to laugh. I need to spend time with friends.” I am sure the Ukrainians understand.

    “With his daughters around less,” Politico reports—without saying exactly where Sasha and Malia, neither of whom is in college, have gone—Barack and Michelle are having more date nights. In April, in New York City to deliver a speech to Al Sharpton’s nonprofit, the Obamas, sidekick Valerie Jarrett, her boyfriend Ahmad Rashad, poet Elizabeth Alexander, and the Dibbles of Chicago had dinner at the Gramercy hotel’s Maialino. Then the Obamas and Jarrett and friend took in Denzel Washington in the revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun. “The presidential motorcade froze traffic out of Times Square and drew crowds of onlookers who stood up to 30 people deep along Obama’s route to catch a glimpse of his limousine and entourage,” said the Grio. I can only imagine what rush hour was like in Manhattan that evening. But hey: Obama needed this.

    Jarrett, who serves the same role in this White House that Colonel House served in Woodrow Wilson’s, is the key figure in Obama’s premature post-presidency. She organizes the dinner parties in Washington and abroad, none of which appear on the president’s official schedule. For all the secrecy, the guest lists are entirely predictable. They include the sort of celebrities one sees on the red carpet at Cannes or on panels at Davos: Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Powell and Warren Buffett, Gayle King and Anna Wintour, the CEO of Apple and the head of the World Bank. Like the liberals who attend them, the parties are demographically diverse but intellectually uniform. Of all the boldfaced names mentioned in Budoff Brown and Epstein’s story, the only one that seems remotely capable of independent thought is, of all people, Bono, who is friendly with George W. Bush and got along with the late Jesse Helms.

    I like to imagine the conversations at these parties. How are they structured? Is there any awkwardness at the beginning? Does it take a few drinks to get things going? I imagine that there is plenty of hesitant and anodyne talk about children, about movies, about basketball, about the weather. When the discussion turns to domestic or foreign affairs, though, the clichés must be stifling: How can the Republicans be so obstructionist and rude and luddite, what happened to the nice moderate conservatives they used to have in the Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush administrations, have you seen the latest essays by Ezra Klein and Michael Tomasky and Ta-Nehisi Coates, who cares what the media says, E.J. Dionne says you are doing A-OK, what’s it like to hold the nuclear football, have you been to Eric Ripert’s newest restaurant, weren’t the Afghan and Iraq wars terrible mistakes, people have got to recognize America can’t go its own way in today’s integrated, global, flat world, the Wire is Shakespearean, what are you going to do about the polar bears, we need to appreciate the value of other cultures, America doesn’t have such a clean record itself you know, my son just took a job in Dubai, wasn’t Sheryl Sandberg brilliant in her City Colleges of Chicago commencement speech, let’s touch base on the new youth outreach project Mark Zuckerberg is standing up, do you watch Mad Men, politics is a relay race and we just have to keep going until we hand the baton to the next person, where do you come up with all of those beautiful words, we leave for Beijing next week, Putin doesn’t understand how we do things in the twenty-first century, God that Bibi is so unreasonable, who are your favorite authors, it’s time for a real conversation about race, is Homeland like real life, this is the sushi place to go to in Los Angeles, you are a real role model for young men not only in this country but all around the world, I watch House of Cards but my wife prefers Orange is the New Black. … The earnestness, the posing, the sentimentality, the affected and knowing tones, the blather, the sanctimony, the insinuation, the phoniness, the small talk, above all the endless putting on airs before the most gigantic ego known to mankind—that wine had better be good.

    “The bull sessions satisfy the president’s intellectual curiosity as he indulges in nuanced conversations about life, ideas, and art,” Politico reports. But how nuanced, really, can these conversations be? Has anyone at these parties ever suggested to Barack Obama that his take on life and ideas and art is incomplete, biased, shallow, or—gulp—wrong? Or that, you know, maybe he should devote some attention to his actual job?

  17. 1539days says:

    Peggy Noonan (the one who called McCain choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate “bullshit”) is still trying to atone by writing about how lazy and disengaged Obama has become. This is fairly unsurprising, as Obama was never put in charge of anything before. Frankly, I don’t want Obama to do anything in the White House.

    The problem has never been Obama, but the team that existed before Obama and chose Obama as their meat puppet. Obama can go to fundraisers and TV shows all day, every day because his advisers and czars are running the show. Those are the unaccountable people to worry about.

    • Constance says:

      You are right and those Obama team people are going to pick a replacement to run for President in 2016. No way will they pick Hillary. But who will it be??? I think Republicans could go a long ways by emphasizing their patriotism. People are sick of the “lets degrade and change the USA” demeanor of the Obots.

      • DandyTIger says:

        Republicans could, but some of them will want to talk about rape instead.

        • Constance says:

          They are so F’ing dumb! Sometimes I just wish I could fit Republican men with shock collars and shock them every time they talk about idiot concepts like “legitimate rape”, birth control, and how women who are forced to pay high prices for government mandated health insurance are getting birth control (or slut pills) for “free” as if women have not contributed their share to the health care industry. There is no reason to believe men as stupid as Republican leaders can run the government effectively. Like Democrat men there is no reason to even assume they can pick which problems facing our country are even a priority.

          The Democrat party makes me just as mad by assuming women only care about birth control and also calling birth control a “women’s issue” when all acts requiring birth control involve a man too.

          Both parties are run by idiots.

  18. The Klown says:

    The downside of losing weight:

    Walking thru the supermarket and having to keep pulling up your shorts because your generation doesn’t walk around with their ass or underwear showing.

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