The Chimp and the River
May 10, 2019 8:43 PM - by David Quammen - Subscribe

The real story of AIDS―how it originated with a virus in a chimpanzee, jumped to one human, and then infected more than 60 million people―is very different from what most of us think we know. Recent research has revealed dark surprises and yielded a radically new scenario of how AIDS began and spread. Excerpted and adapted from the book Spillover, with a new introduction by the author, Quammen's hair-raising investigation tracks the virus from chimp populations in the jungles of southeastern Cameroon to laboratories across the globe, as he unravels the mysteries of when, where, and under what circumstances such a consequential "spillover" can happen. An audacious search for answers amid more than a century of data, The Chimp and the River tells the haunting tale of one of the most devastating pandemics of our time.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (1 comment total)
j_curiouser brought this book to my attention in the comment on my post on David Quammen's other book, that spawned this one, Spillover. It was super cheap used so I snagged it and devoured it in a couple of days. It's not a long book, but uses as of 2015 information to rather definitively tell the story of the HIV virus, and how it came to be. Spoiler alert: Gaëtan Dugas was innocent. Sadly I wish the book treated him better, as even as it exonerates him, the language used to describe him and his activities is less than great. That being said, it is a fascinating story, weaving both molecular biology and conjecture to paint a convincing story of how HIV emerged from a Cameroon jungle and crossed over from a chimpanzee virus (that they got from monkeys) into us. HIV isn't just a human disease, it's a scourge of hominoids. In the monkeys it originates in, its been in their systems for thousands of years, and it doesn't make them that sick anymore- they've adapted. Chimps aren't so lucky- SIV killed several of the famous Gombe chimps (there is an interview with Goodall in the book!) and of course, one fateful day around 1908- it crossed over into us. At first it would have been a curiosity- most of the afflicted would never have even known they were sick, but it spread, slowly and surely. Eventually as the fad for curing diseases via hypodermic needle became a thing in the 20's and 30's... well. All it took was international travel and the demand for blood plasma... This book does a pretty good job of showing that sexual transmission is honestly secondary- and that as with most zoonotic diseases, there is no morality involved, merely proximity to animals, and chance, that causes an epidemic.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:53 PM on May 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

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