In the '80s, they called Gaetan Dugas the patient zero of HIV/AIDS. Except he wasn't.

U.S. doctors first noticed the disease that would come to be known as HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s.

The story starts with a group of doctors, who noticed an outbreak of a rare skin cancer called Kaposi sarcoma in young gay men in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. We now know that Kaposi sarcoma is linked to HIV/AIDS, but at the time, those doctors didn't know what was causing the rare form cancer.

CDC researchers, suspecting that whatever was causing this disease was sexually transmitted, started asking patients to name their partners. And, through this work, the researchers started to build out a map of cases.


That's where a man named Gaetan Dugas comes in.

Photo from Anonymous/Assoicated Press.

Dugas was a Canadian flight attendant, and he was named by several of the patients as one of their sexual partners. Soon enough, the scientists started talking to him. It turned out he was sick too.

Dugas' case started the phrase "patient zero," which you may have heard of. But the term — and its tie to Dugas — was more or less an accident.

Dugas did end up near the center of their map, which some people took to mean that he was the original source of this new and rare infection in the United States. But the scientists didn't mean to imply that.

A re-creation of the 1984 "map" of infections. Dugas' spot is highlighted in red. Image from Niamh O'C/Wikimedia Commons.

Even the term, "patient zero" was an accident. Dugas was originally anonymized as Patient O, for "out(side)-of-California." It was only later, in a misunderstanding, that Dugas became "patient zero."

Dugas was originally anonymous, but once the media learned who he was, they turned him into the great HIV/AIDs villain.

Dugas' name first appeared in the book "And the Band Played On," by Randy Shilts. And the media, once they got wind of who he was, painted Dugas as some sort of purposefully malicious villain — the man who "brought" HIV/AIDS to the U.S.

"Gaetan Dugas is one of the most demonised patients in history, and one of a long line of individuals and groups vilified in the belief that they somehow fueled epidemics with malicious intent," said Cambridge's Richard McKay in a statement.

But not everyone believed this was true, so scientists investigated. And they may have just cleared his name.

There have been previous suggestions that Dugas did not deserve the dubious moniker of "patient zero," but now a team, including McKay and led by Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona, may have definitive evidence that Dugas was not the original carrier of HIV.

To do this, the scientists got a hold of old blood samples containing the virus from Dugas and eight other patients. They then used sophisticated genetic techniques to sequence each HIV infection's genome, effectively building a kind of family tree of the virus.

If Dugas was really the first infectee (or what scientists more properly call the "index case"), his sample should have been at the root of the tree. But that wasn't the case. Instead, their research suggests that the disease actually entered the United States from the Caribbean sometime in the 1970s. It turned out he was simply another patient with a really tough disease.

This study will help us better understand how HIV/AIDS entered the United States. But it also shows why the idea of a patient zero can be so problematic.

We often want someone to blame when big things go wrong — a scapegoat makes things a lot easier. The idea of a patient zero provides an all-too-easy target.

"Blaming 'others' — whether the foreign, the poor, or the wicked — has often served to establish a notional safe distance between the majority and groups or individuals identified as threats," said McKay. And Dugas, an unashamed gay foreigner in the 1980s, was, to many in America, one of the "others."

Though we have a much better grasp on HIV/AIDS today than we did in the 1980s, we continue to see this vilification with other diseases.

Take the stigma the family of Emile Ouamouno, the 2-year-old patient zero of the 2014 West African Ebola epidemic, has had to live through.

An aid workers sets up beds in Liberia in 2014. Photo by Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Scientifically, this vilification can be problematic as well. Identifying the origin of a disease is an important step in understanding how it spreads, but solely focusing on that can obscure other, larger contributing factors that contribute to how a disease spreads, such as unequal access to health care, said McKay in The Guardian.

In the end, the idea of a patient zero can also eclipse the human cost.

Rather, we can get so wrapped up in our obsession with blaming a patient zero, that we can lose sight of the very human cost of the disease itself, which often plays out right in front of us.

"It is important to remember that, in the 1970s, as now, the epidemic was driven by individuals going about their lives unaware they were contracting, and sometimes transmitting, a deadly infection," said McKay.

The early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic were a terrible, dark time for everyone who lived through them, and reducing that story to blaming just one man is a grave mistake. McKay said they hope this research will give people pause before using the phrase again.

Dugas died in 1984 of AIDS-related complications.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."