The Weird History Podcast
219 Patient Zero
In 1987 journalist Randy Shilts chronicled the early years of AIDS in North America in his book And the Band Played On. Shilts’ reporting was mostly concerned with the failures of the U.S. government and healthcare infrastructure to respond to AIDS, but much of the promotion and hype around the book focused on a man named Gaeten Dugas. Dugas had been a flight attendant for Air Canada, and Shilts blamed him for spreading AIDS throughout North America. Dugas, later named “Patient Zero” was demonized as the man spread a new, incurable disease across a continent.
However, in 2016 a study published in Nature exonerated Dugas, and revealed that Shilts and the public at large had unjustly blamed him for being the source of the epidemic. The truth was more complicated.