Virus Hunt: The Search for the Origin of HIV/AIDs


In Virus Hunt, renowned virologist Dorothy H. Crawford takes us inside one of the great research quests of our time—the search for the origin of AIDS.

From hospital intensive care wards to research laboratories to the African rain forests, Crawford follows the trail of the virus back to its roots deep in Africa. We track wild monkeys and apes through the jungle—gathering their DNA via hair and feces samples—to discover from which primates HIV first jumped to our species, ...

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Virus Hunt: The search for the origin of HIV/AIDs

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In Virus Hunt, renowned virologist Dorothy H. Crawford takes us inside one of the great research quests of our time—the search for the origin of AIDS.

From hospital intensive care wards to research laboratories to the African rain forests, Crawford follows the trail of the virus back to its roots deep in Africa. We track wild monkeys and apes through the jungle—gathering their DNA via hair and feces samples—to discover from which primates HIV first jumped to our species, ultimately concluding that the most virulent strain, HIV-1, came from chimpanzees in Cameroon. We then time travel back to colonial Africa around the turn of the 20th century, when the virus first spread to humans. But even the rapidly mutating HIV could not survive in one person long enough to adapt to our immune system. Crawford shows that it may have been given the opportunity to adapt by being transmitted rapidly from one person to the next through unsterile syringes, ironically used during a campaign to wipe out disease by mass inoculation. The book then moves to Leopoldville (now Kinshasa), where Crawford describes the unique series of social upheavals, starting in the 1920s, that sparked epidemic levels of sexually transmitted diseases, allowed HIV-1 to begin its exponential growth. And when in the 1960s chance took the virus abroad to Haiti, from where it jumped to the United States, its pandemic spread began.

Crawford tells a gripping story of brilliant scientific sleuthing, breakthrough discoveries, tragic errors, stubborn intractable mysteries, generous collaborations, and bitter disputes. And along the way, she conveys, with a light and engaging touch, a wealth of interesting observations about viruses, DNA, disease, immune systems, the very latest research methods, and of course HIV.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Scottish virologist Crawford (Viruses: A Very Short Introduction) celebrates the brilliant “evolutionary sleuthing” that helped solve the puzzle of the origins of HIV, a “virus unlike any other” that has now infected over 60 million people. The University of Edinburgh professor explains that those hunting for the source of the virus that causes AIDS collectively “scoured the medical literature,” hunted for old blood samples to test for HIV, and painstakingly analyzed genomes from around the world to find the answers they were looking for. Researchers discovered that though the scourge didn’t make headlines until the early 1980s, its roots stretch back into the west central Africa of the early 20th century. They also found that the “natural reservoir” of the predecessor of HIV turned out to be a subspecies of chimpanzee whose infection “jumped” to humans—likely through exposure to infected blood during hunts—to arrive in the U.S. around 1969. Crawford’s “incredible tale of medical detection” also offers an absorbing take on African history, politics, and culture, as well as the invasion of European explorers and slave traders. This dense but engrossing history will appeal primarily to scientists, but it has a much broader significance: by “understanding where, how, when and why the virus evolved and spread among us, we can surely work to prevent the next one.” 21 b&w illus. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"A wonderful source book for professionals and a highly informative, often engrossing tale for lay readers." —Kirkus

"an engrossing history" —Publishers Weekly

"This engaging work will appeal to a broad audience." —Library Journal

"Crawford privides a contemporary summary of what is known about the origins of HIV and its movement from chimpanzees and mangabeys to humans. Her writing is crisp and clear." -R. Adler, University of Michigan, Dearborn, CHOICE

Library Journal
In this captivating work, virologist Crawford (microbiology, Univ. of Edinburgh; Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History) unravels the mysterious origin of HIV. Simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) jumped several times from chimpanzees or gorillas to humans, creating different strains of HIV, including the HIV-1 strain responsible for the current pandemic. The author posits the "cut hunter" theory, suggesting that the virus probably moved from chimpanzees to humans via a lacerated hunter who handled an infected chimp. This transfer likely happened in Cameroon around 1900, Crawford writes in this well-told narrative. Humans then carried the disease to present-day Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), sometime before 1924. The city then was a boomtown, with male migrants who came for work, leaving their wives home in the villages. This created a thriving sex trade, which helped spread HIV. Upon gaining independence, DR Congo recruited foreign workers, many coming from Haiti. One Haitian returned home with the virus, probably in 1966, spreading the disease to the Western Hemisphere. From there, the disease arrived in the United States around 1969. VERDICT This engaging work will appeal to a broad audience.—Jeffrey Beall, Univ. of Colorado Denver Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A meticulous unfolding of how, when, where and why HIV took off. Make that HIV-1, group M, as one thing Crawford (Medicine/Univ. of Edinburgh; The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses, 2003, etc.) makes clear is that the world of simian and human immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs and HIVs) is rich, complex and constantly changing due to high mutation rates. By 1983, it was known that a virus was the cause of AIDS. Researchers quickly established that the "gay disease" in America was the same as the heterosexual "slim disease" in central Africa, both caused by a retrovirus of the lentivirus, or slow virus family, so-called because of the long lag time between infection and the end stages of disease. The canny observation of a similar disease in Asian macaques at the U.S. National Primate Centers spurred a focus on primates in Africa; there was reason to believe that the macaques had picked up an SIV from African primates there. How the simian virus jumped to humans is a tangled tale whose unraveling involved international collaborations among epidemiologists, demographers, virologists and evolutionary molecular biologists. The researchers eventually pinned down the origins of HIV-1 to chimpanzees in Cameroon, and the less aggressive HIV-2 disease to West African sooty mangabeys. Getting to that point meant digging into stored blood and tissue samples in Europe and Africa, testing captive primates, and developing techniques for extracting HIV antibodies and viral DNA from urine and fecal samples from primates in the wild. The current consensus is that HIV-1 cases date back to the 1900s and were amplified in the 1920s by mass vaccinations and unsterilized needles. AIDS became a pandemic in recent decades thanks to warfare, global travel, changing mores, movements to cities, the growth of commercial sex workers and the market for bush meat, to name only the most prominent in a vast array of factors. A wonderful source book for professionals and a highly informative, often engrossing tale for lay readers willing to apply due diligence.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199641147
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/12/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 543,572
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorothy H. Crawford has been Assistant Principal for Public Understanding of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh since 2007. Her previous books include The Invisible Enemy, Deadly Companions, and Viruses: A Very Short Introduction. She was elected a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2001, and awarded an OBE for services to medicine and higher education in 2005.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: a new disease
1. The puzzle of HIV-1
2. Tracing HIV to its roots
3. The primate connection
4. From rain forest to research laboratory
5. Timing SIV cpz's jump to humans
6. A vital first step for HIV-1 group M
7. Beginning the epic journey
8. HIV-1 group M meets the challenge
9. Past, present, and future pandemics
Further reading

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