10 Scapegoats Still in the Crosshairs

Patient Zero
Los Angeles residents participate in a rally for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Feb. 7, 2002. According to the World Health Organization, more than 1.7 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2011. Steve Grayson/WireImage/Getty Images

His name was Gaëtan Dugas, but history knows him as Patient Zero. When the AIDS epidemic first stampeded across North America in the early 1980s, researchers were on the lookout for the unaware person, or persons, responsible for spreading the deadly disease, which was ravaging the gay community. Medical investigators from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention ultimately tracked down Dugas, a gay flight steward from Canada, linking him to a number of AIDS cases in Los Angeles, New York and eight other cities.

Investigators implicated Dugas in 40 of the first 248 cases of AIDs in the United States. When he was told he was endangering his sexual partners — about 250 a year (and thousands of others indirectly) — he continued to have unprotected sex. Dugas died in 1984 [source: Henry]. Public health officials have noted that if Dugas hadn't spread the disease, some other person likely would have.