Though 35 years have passed since the first notice of a new disease spreading amongst the American population, many still remain in ignorance about the history of HIV in the United States. This timeline provides some context about the spread of the disease, as well as the history of the movement born to fight it. The entries here are not comprehensive — see aids.gov or avert.org for a more detailed history — but they do illustrate the evolution of perception and reaction. From the original crisis and its framing of HIV/AIDS as a “gay disease” and death sentence, to its modern status as universal and treatable, activism has met and pushed back against ignorance. The movement against HIV/AIDS has grown immensely and continues to provide resources for those affected by the disease, a number that grows by tens of thousands each year in the U.S. alone.
CDC reports a rare lung infection affecting gay men in Los Angeles.
After publicity of the CDC’s report, cases surface of a rare cancer in gay men throughout California and New York.
At the end of the year, there are 270 reported cases of severe deficiency of the immune system in gay men.
In early January, Gay Men’s Health Crisis is founded. The organization was the first to offer services and aid to those affected by the disease.
The foundation that will become the San Francisco AIDS Foundation is first formed.
The CDC coins the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” (AIDS).
Cases surface of infants who received blood transfusions affected by the disease.
Cases of AIDS appear in female sexual partners of infected males.
National AIDS hotline established.
French scientists at the Pasteur Institute identify a retrovirus as the possible cause of AIDS.
Major transmission routes of the virus are identified by the CDC.
First AIDS discrimination lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal on behalf of a doctor evicted for treating AIDS patients.
World Health Organization (WHO) begins international surveillance.
Community groups servicing people with AIDS organize into AIDS Action, a national advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Robert Gallo and team identify and name the retrovirus and develop a diagnostic test.
First International AIDS Conference held in Atlanta by the WHO and U.S. Department of Health.
Ryan White, who contracted AIDS through blood transfusion, is refused schooling and becomes an activist for AIDS education.
Actor Rock Hudson dies of AIDS-related illness and wills $250,000 to fund the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
Metrolina AIDS Project founded in Charlotte, N.C.
The virus is named the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
CDC reports that HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects African Americans and Latinos.
WHO’s Global Program on AIDS launched.
Larry Kramer, playwright and activist, founds the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP).
First antiretroviral drug (AZT) approved and funded.
AIDS Awareness Month is designated.
Randy Shilts’ “And the Band Played On” published, naming “Patient Zero” for the first time.
The first gathering of men in San Francisco, Calif., was held to begin to create a lasting memorial to those whom they had lost to AIDS. This milestone became the beginning of The Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The inaugural display was held in Washington, D.C. at the National Mall during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. Showcased were 1,920 panels.
ACT UP protests at the FDA, which soon announces new, faster drug approval protocols.
Pediatric AIDS Foundation formed by HIV-positive mother Elizabeth Glaser.
CDC reports over 100,000 cases of HIV in the United States.
Ryan White dies of AIDS-related illness.
U.S. Congress enacts the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act.
United Way of Central Carolinas and Foundation of the Carolinas found the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium, later called the Carolinas CARE Partnership.
AIDS becomes the leading cause of death in American men age 25-44.
Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN) founded.
CDC expands case definitions of AIDS, leading to further diagnoses.
AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for all Americans age 25-44.
First protease inhibitor approved for treatment of HIV.
500,000 cases of HIV/AIDS confirmed by October.
Number of new AIDS cases decreases for the first time.
United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) begins worldwide operations.
Dr. Robert Gallo discovers that a natural compound known as chemokines can block HIV and halt the progression of AIDS.
CDC reports first decline of AIDS-related deaths, a result of new highly active antiretroviral therapy.
UNAIDS reports 30 million worldwide infected by HIV, and 16,000 new cases per day.
CDC reports that African Americans account for 49 percent of AIDS-related deaths.
WHO reports that HIV/AIDS is fourth worldwide in cause of death and first in Africa. WHO estimates that 33 million are infected worldwide and 14 million have died thus far.
Researchers announce a theory of the virus’ origins: a subspecies of chimpanzee, previously hunted for meat, may have been the source of the virus in humans as hunters suffered exposure to infected blood.
Clinton administration declares HIV/AIDS is a threat to national security.
Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria established.
CDC announces that 66 percent of new infections are transmitted by individuals who were unaware of their infected status.
UNAIDS launches Global Coalition on Women and AIDS.
Nelson Mandela’s son dies of an AIDS-related illness.
WHO reports more than one million people in sub-Saharan Africa have been treated for HIV/AIDS.
CDC reports over 565,000 people have died in the U.S. of AIDS-related illness since 1981.
An international study finds that life expectancy in HIV-positive patients has increased to 60 years.
Other researchers announce that HIV may have originated in humans from the 1880s.
Metrolina AIDS Project disbands after 25 years of service.
Obama administration lifts travel ban against HIV-positive individuals entering the U.S.
CDC announces new findings that daily antiretrovirals can prevent infection as well as treat it.
FDA approves first at-home HIV test.
UNAIDS announces antiretroviral treatment has increased 63 percent in two years and new HIV infections have dropped 50 percent in low- and middle-income countries.
Affordable Care Act ensures that HIV-positive people can gain access to health insurance and avoid annual limits on coverage.
CDC announces a 19 percent decline in annual HIV diagnoses from 2005 to 2014; however, the rate actually increased in Latino and Black men who have sex with men (MSM).
Researchers discover that HIV resistance to a key antiretroviral is becoming more common.
The first reported case of HIV infection of someone regularly taking the HIV-preventative drug Truvada.
National Institutes of Health report a new HIV vaccine trial to start in South Africa, pending regulatory approval.
The UN’s High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS, despite a pledge to end AIDS by 2030, also denies access to LGBT groups and fails to emphasize those most at risk: MSM, sex workers, transgender people, and intravenous drug users.