• 1981

    In June, the U.S. Centers  for Disease Control (CDC) reports on five homosexual men in California who unexpectedly developed a rare kind of pneumonia called Pneumocysti carinii. A few weeks later, the CDC releases details about an unusual cancer cluster among gay men in New York City and California. Together the findings lead to the first realization that a new disease—later called AIDS—had reached epidemic proportions.

  • Tremendous social stigma about the nature of this sexually transmitted disease keeps many ordinary people from learning more about the illness and, in the early years, hampers public policy and research efforts.

  • 1984

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is isolated. Margaret Heckler, the then Secretary of Health and Human Services, mistakenly predicts that a vaccine would be ready for testing in two years.

  • 1986

    C. Everett Koop, who was at the time the U.S. Surgeon General, released a 36-page report on AIDS to the general public that "discussed the nature of AIDS, its modes of transmission, risk factors for contracting the disease, and ways in which people could protect themselves, including use of condoms."

  • 1987

    The FDA approves azidothymidine (also called AZT, zidovudine and ZDV) the first drug against HIV. Within two years, researchers reported that certain strains of HIV had become resistant to the drug.

  • 1989

    The FDA approves an infusion of ganciclovir, which prevents blindness in many patients with a cytomegalovirus infection of their eyes.

  • Aerosolized pentamidine is approved by the FDA for the treatment of Pneumocysti carinii pneumonia, a common opportunistic infection of AIDS.

  • 1990

    FDA approves fluconazole to treat two serious fungal infections associated with AIDS.

  • 1994

    FDA approves the use of AZT for the prevention of HIV transmission from mother to child.

  • FDA approves a combination of Bactrim and Septra for the prevention of Pneumocysti carinii pneumonia (PCP), a common opportunistic infection of AIDS. Prior to the drug combo's widespread use, few AIDS patients survived more than three bouts of PCP.

  • Investigators publish studies about people who can apparently live with an HIV-infection for 15 years or more without progressing to the later stages of illness with AIDS.

  • 1996

    In the second half of the year, researchers determine that some individuals appear to be naturally resistant to HIV infection because they lack a particular protein on the surface of their immune cells.

  • In the spring, investigators discover that treating HIV with a combination of drugs, including a so-called protease inhibitor, significantly decreases the amount of HIV in the blood. More and more people with AIDS—at least in wealthy countries—experience the "Lazarus Effect." They gain weight and regain much of their health  after lingering perilously close to death.

  • 1997

    Consistent use of condoms is shown to be effective in preventing transmission of HIV.

  • 2003

    During the 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush proposes creation of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to make anti-HIV drugs less costly and more widely available to millions of men, women and children in the poorest regions of the world.

  • 2005

    South African study shows that male circumcision helps lower the risk of transmission of HIV by as much as 60 percent.

  • 2009

    Beginning in the summer, Carl June, Bruce Levine and their colleagues start safety studies of carefully designed proteins called "zinc finger nucleases" that may (or may not) recreate a natural genetic resistance to HIV infection in people with AIDS.

  • In February, Dr. Gero Hütter and colleagues published the results of a rare bone-marrow transplantation that has apparently cured an HIV-positive man of AIDS. The experiment depended on the occurrence of so many fortuitous coincidences that it may never be repeated—or at least not very often.

  • 2010

    The World Health Organization estimates that 15 million of the 34 million people living with HIV around the world need treatment with anti-HIV medications. Approximately 6.6 million people actually have access to AIDS medications.