Timeline: AIDS Epidemic, 1981 - 1995

Updated May 16, 2021 | David Johnson and Shmuel Ross

Key events, important people, activism and breakthroughs

1981-1983 1985-1988 1991-1995 1996-Present


"Gay cancer," later called GRID, (Gay Related Immuno Deficiency) claims 121 deaths in the U.S. since the mid-1970s


Scientists call the new disease AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)

Center for Disease Control says sexual contact or infected blood could transmit AIDS; U.S. begins formal tracking of all AIDS cases

285 cases reported in 17 U.S. states, five European countries


Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, and Dr. Luc Montagnier of France's Pasteur Institute independently identify Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS



Movie actor Rock Hudson dies of AIDS; the resulting publicity greatly increases AIDS awareness

Congress allocates $70 million for AIDS research

First international AIDS conference held in Atlanta

Blood test for HIV approved; screening of U.S. blood supply begins


Soviet Union reports first AIDS case

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop sends AIDS information to all U.S. households

Scientists locate second type of AIDS virus, HIV-2, in West Africa; original virus is HIV-1



FDA approves AZT, a potent new drug for AIDS patients, which prolongs the lives of some patients by reducing infections


World Health Organization begins World AIDS Day to focus attention on fighting the disease


10 million people worldwide estimated to be HIV-positive, including 1 million in U.S.; more than 36,000 Americans have died of AIDS since the late 1970s


The first clinical trials using combinations of multiple drugs begin

FDA begins accelerated approval of experimental AIDS drugs


U.S. annual AIDS deaths approach 45,000


AIDS-related illnesses are the leading cause of death for adults 25-44 years old in U.S.


Saquinavir, the first protease inhibitor (which reduces the ability of AIDS to spread to new cells) is approved


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