| Aids resource manual - A guide for teaching about AIDS in Thailand |
|Section I - Basic facts about AIDS|
QUESTION: Where did AIDS come from?
AIDS comes from a virus called HIV, but where this virus came from is not known. To find out, more information is being gathered through new research But as new facts are discovered about viruses, like HIV, the question of where HIV came from is becoming more complicated to answer. It is best to refocus this curiosity and attention on how to stop the spread of this disease. Questions of where and when it started can be answered later.
QUESTION: How can there suddenly be a disease that never existed before?
If we look at AIDS as a worldwide epidemic, it is something new and rather sudden. But if we look at AIDS as a disease and at the virus that causes it we get a different picture. We find that both the disease and the virus that causes it are not new. They were here well before the epidemic.
We know that viruses sometimes change genetically. A virus that was once harmless to humans can change and become harmful. This is probably what happened with HIV long before the AIDS epidemic.
What is new is the rapid spread of the virus. It may be compared with a weed that someone brings home from a distant place. In its original environment the weed survives, but does not spread much. However, once it gets started in the new environment, conditions may allow it to grow much better than it did in its old surroundings.
It spreads, chokes out other plants, and becomes a nuisance and then a widespread problem. The spread of HIV is somewhat similar.
Researchers believe that the virus was present in isolated population groups years before the epidemic began. Then the situation changed. People moved often and travelled more; they settled in big cities; and lifestyles changed, including patterns of sexual behavior. It became easier for HIV to spread, through sexual intercourse and contaminated blood. As the virus spread, the isolated disease already existing became a new epidemic.