jump to navigation
  • 70 Million Dead in One Second September 8, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern , trackback

    chimp that gave us hiv

    The year is 1908. You are walking through a jungle territory in southeastern Cameroon in central Africa when you hear the sickening smack of the machete on flesh. Expecting the worst you emerge, your rifle half lifted, but see only a local hunter with a kill. He has taken a chimp in a trap and is now cutting the body up. His eyes acknowledge your presence and he absentmindedly lifts his blood-red  fingers to his mouth. In that split second, unbeknownst to you and the hunter, seventy million men, women and children die, about the number that would perish in World War 2.

    This WIBT moment is one of the deadliest in history, yet to see it would have been quite as tedious as suggested above with neither the witness nor the victim having any idea what had just happened. Of course, the details may have been slightly different. 1908 is our best guess, but it depends on conjecture, tracing back two laboratory samples, one from 1959 and 1960. It could easily be a couple of years off. The event certainly took place in central Africa and almost certainly on the border between Cameroon and Congo: this depends on the analysis of primate diseases in the area and comparison with human forms.

    As to the moment that HIV crossed from a chimp to a human the hunter with a machete is an intelligent guess: HIV is, of course, the murderer of millions here. Chimp blood had to mix with human blood for the cross over to take place. Perhaps the hunter had a cut on his hand? Perhaps he ate some raw or semi-raw chimp meat and had a mouth or lip ulcer? There is the very strong presumption that the person who first contracted HIV was hunting or trapping. Because of his profession and because he so efficiently transmitted HIV to others we might reasonably presume that he was a man. In terms of ease of sexual transmission for HIV the classical order is, of course (high to low): male to male; male to female; female to male; female to female.

    To date about 35 million have died of AIDS and we can bank on at least another 35 million dying in the next half century even though HIV can now be ‘managed’: horrible word. At least it can be ‘managed’ if you live in a country that can pay for the medicine.

    There must have been other ‘tedious’ moments in human history of similar significance: when human beings took diseases from animals. The first bubonic carrying flea (an inn on the silk road?), the pig that gave us small pox or tuberculosis (a farm in the Neolithic?)… drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com What has struck Beach, as he read around these events, is how common they are.  Take HIV again. The HIV that we know of is just one of several far less dangerous and virulent strains in human populations. These different strains are not adaptations from the 1908 incident: by most estimates they represent one of half a dozen moments when hunters infected themselves with primate blood in the last century.