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On World Aids Day, Remembering NPR's Early Reporting On The Disease

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

On occasion, we feature examples of early reporting by NPR on things that were once poorly understood in the today we know very well, such as this story from July 3, 1981.

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LAURIE GARRETT: In the last three months, 28 cases of Kaposi's sarcoma have been reported in this country, all occurring among gay men, most of them young.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This mysterious new disease was, of course, AIDS. It was the first of many HIV stories reporter Laurie Garrett would cover. We thought that this mention would be appropriate because it's World AIDS Day.

SIEGEL: Back in 1981, Laurie Garrett talked to San Francisco Dr. John Gullett who had treated some of the first patients. They'd all had the same form of skin cancer.

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JOHN GULLETT: We first became aware of a problem in the gay community when we encountered a patient who had Kaposi's sarcoma throughout his body. And in discussing with other skin doctors in the country we found that there was indeed a funny outbreak.

MCEVERS: HIV/AIDS went on to be one of the most lethal pandemics in history. The World Health Organization says 34 million people have died from AIDS-related causes. Back in 1981, there was so much that scientists didn't know. Even a year later, that was the case when Jay Balthazar filed this report.

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JAY BALTHAZAR: Now, if researchers can find how the AIDS infection works and how it destroys the body's immune system, they may also discover why cancer strikes some people and not others, and why it's such a deadly disease.

SIEGEL: Researchers would eventually figure out how the virus works, but it would take decades to develop effective treatments so that AIDS today is no longer a death sentence. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.