Don Sapatkin has a really interesting piece up at philly.com right now. It chronicles the origin of the “patient zero” narrative. If you’re not familiar, the story is that all known cases of HIV in the United States can be traced back to a single, unusually promiscuous individual, a flight attendant from Canada named Gaetan Dugas. While a lot of people have known this to be bunk basically since it was published, many others seem to believe it. I first encountered it on a message board where it was posted as an interesting factoid.
What Sapatkin's article reveals is that the entire “Patient Zero” story was a calculated PR strategy by HIV researchers and public health officials who had become desperate to bring the disease into the public eye. According to the people quoted in the article, it worked. According to others, the effect on Dugas was ruinous, and his treatment utterly inhumane.