A new study discovered the origins of HIV/AIDS, traced to the central African city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the 1920s.
Researchers say “a perfect storm” of factors “primed the HIV pandemic,” including rail and river transport in the 1960s Congo, as well as a booming sex trade and use of unsterilized needles in health clinics.
The international research team traced HIV’s genetic history with the use of archived samples of the virus’s genetic code.
Senior author Professor Oliver Pybus of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, says the majority of HIV studies have used a “piecemeal approach” to determine the genetic history of HIV, analyzing HIV genomes from certain locations, reports MNT. Pybus and his colleagues opted for a different approach.
“For the first time we have analyzed all the available evidence using the latest phylogeographic techniques, which enable us to statistically estimate where a virus comes from,” Prof. Pybus explains. “This means we can say with a high degree of certainty where and when the HIV pandemic originated.”
HIV was first recognized in the 1980s. Approximately 75 million people worldwide have been infected with the disease. About 36 million of those infected have died.
The researchers believe the virus first made its way to the human population through infected blood in brush meat.
“Our research suggests that following the original animal to human transmission of the virus (probably through the hunting or handling of bush meat) there was only a small ‘window’ during the Belgian colonial era for this particular strain of HIV to emerge and spread into a pandemic,” Pybus adds.
From there, the virus spread to areas of Africa beyond Kinshasa, and eventually became a global pandemic. The report establishes that more than 1 million people were using Kinshasa’s Belgium-backed railways by the end of 1940, aiding to the disease’s spread. At that time, Kinshasa was part of the Belgian Congo.
The research time says further research is warranted to determine other social factors that many have contributed to the HIV pandemic.