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Jacques Pepin's 'The Origins Of AIDS' Examines HIV Pandemic In New Light

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A Canadian professor's groundbreaking look at the genesis of the AIDS virus is generating global buzz for shedding new light onto the world's most devastating pandemic.

As The New York Times is reporting, Dr. Jacques Pepin's "The Origins of AIDS," published earlier this month by Cambridge University Press, traces the improbable journey of HIV/AIDS to a single bush hunter (dubbed "patient zero") in central Africa who "manipulated chimpanzee meat" in 1921:

Dr. Pepin sifts the blizzard of scientific papers written about AIDS, adds his own training in epidemiology, his own observations from treating patients in a bush hospital, his studies of the blood of elderly Africans, and years of digging in the archives of the European colonial powers, and works out the most likely path the virus took during the years it left almost no tracks.

Working slowly forward from 1900, he explains how Belgian and French colonial policies led to an incredibly unlikely event: a fragile virus infecting a small minority of chimpanzees slipped into the blood of a handful of hunters, one of whom must have sent it down a chain of “amplifiers” — disease eradication campaigns, red-light districts, a Haitian plasma center and gay sex tourism. Without those amplifiers, the virus would not be what it now is: a grim pilgrim atop a mountain of 62 million victims, living and dead.

Interestingly, Pepin, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec who spent many years living and working in Africa, also believes that he (along with well-meaning doctors and nurses) may have inadvertently helped to pass along the AIDS virus himself while working at a Canadian-funded program in Zaire.

"The chances that this hunter alone could launch an epidemic are very low," Pepin tells Canada's The Globe and Mail. "But there are all the chances in the world that he went to be treated for a tropical disease and a little HIV stayed in the syringe. Then the next patient was injected with it intravenously."

Pepin also believes the rapid expansion through sex alone is mathematically impossible -- instead, he names a Port-au-Prince-based plasma center called Hemo-Caribbean as being one "amplifier" in the spread of the AIDS virus. The center, which operated only from 1971 to 1972, was known to have low hygiene standards.

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