Where did HIV come from?


Quick Answer

Though there are conflicting theories, the most substantial viral and historical evidence available as of October 2014 supports the conjecture that HIV-1 originated in Africa due to unsafe handling of infected meat from chimpanzees, according to the BBC. Historical evidence suggests that the original cross-species infection took place at some point in the 1920s.

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Full Answer

Cross-species viral infections are not uncommon in history. Many viral strains have found a way to evolve and adapt to effectively reproduce in a host body of a new species. Wikipedia states that this occurred with rabies, Ebola, avian flu and swine flu. Though the exact biological mechanism is not known, virologists believe that viral species with high rates of mutation are better suited to adaptation within new host bodies; viruses that reproduce at a higher rate with a more frequent occurrence of genetic variation have a greater chance of developing the necessary biology to attack the cells of a different host species. The more closely related two species are, the more easily a virus can achieve cross-species transmission. This is thought to be why HIV-1 made such a successful transition. Combined with the conditions in the Belgian Congo in the 1920s, the rate of infection and the lack of sophisticated medical technology, HIV was able to remain undetected or officially diagnosed as a distinct illness until the 1980s.

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