BBC News – Aids: Origin of pandemic ‘was 1920s Kinshasa’

By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website

Kinshasa, pictured in 1955, was at the centre of the pandemic, scientists say
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The origin of the Aids pandemic has been traced to the 1920s in the city of Kinshasa, in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, scientists say.

An international team of scientists say a “perfect storm” of population growth, sex and railways allowed HIV to spread.

A feat of viral archaeology was used to find the pandemic’s origin, the team report in the journal Science.

They used archived samples of HIV’s genetic code to trace its source, with evidence pointing to 1920s Kinshasa.

Their report says a roaring sex trade, rapid population growth and unsterilised needles used in health clinics probably spread the virus.

Meanwhile Belgium-backed railways had one million people flowing through the city each year, taking the virus to neighbouring regions.

Experts said it was a fascinating insight into the start of the pandemic.

HIV came to global attention in the 1980s and has infected nearly 75 million people.

It has a much longer history in Africa, but where the pandemic started has remained the source of considerable debate.

Family affair

A team at the University of Oxford and the University of Leuven, in Belgium, tried to reconstruct HIV’s “family tree” and find out where its oldest ancestors came from.

The research group analysed mutations in HIV’s genetic code.

“You can see the footprints of history in today’s genomes, it has left a record, a mutation mark in the HIV genome that can’t be eradicated,” Prof Oliver Pybus from the University of Oxford told the BBC.

(read more).

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