"Patient Zero": the absence of a patient's view of the early North American AIDS epidemic.
This article contextualizes the production and reception of And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts's popular history of the initial recognition of the American AIDS epidemic. Published over twenty-five years ago, the book and its most notorious character, "Patient Zero," are in particular need of a critical historical treatment. The article presents a more balanced consideration-a "patient's view"-of Gaétan Dugas's experience of the early years of AIDS. I oppose the assertion that Dugas, the so-called Patient Zero, ignored incontrovertible information about the condition and was intent on spreading his infection. Instead I argue that scientific ideas in 1982 and 1983 about AIDS and the transmissibility of a causative agent were later portrayed to be more self-evident than they were at the time. The article also traces how Shilts's highly selective-and highly readable-characterization of Dugas rapidly became embedded in discussions about the need to criminalize the reckless transmission of HIV.