To which extent STDs facilitated HIV-1 adaptation to humans, sparking the pandemic, is still unknown. We searched colonial medical records from 1906–1958 for Leopoldville, Belgian Congo, which was the initial epicenter of pandemic HIV-1, compiling counts of treated STD cases in both Africans and Europeans. Almost all Europeans were being treated, while for Africans, generalized treatment started only in 1929. Treated STD counts in Europeans thus reflect STD infection rates more accurately compared to counts in Africans. In Africans, the highest recorded STD treatment incidence was in 1929–1935, declining to low levels in the 1950s. In Europeans, the recorded treatment incidences were highest during the period 1910–1920, far exceeding those in Africans. Europeans were overwhelmingly male and had frequent sexual contact with African females. Consequently, high STD incidence among Europeans must have coincided with high prevalence and incidence in the city’s African population. The data strongly suggest the worst STD period was 1910–1920 for both Africans and Europeans, which coincides with the estimated origin of pandemic HIV-1. Given the strong effect of STD coinfections on HIV transmission, these new data support our hypothesis of a causal effect of STDs on the epidemic emergence of HIV-1.
- Central Africa
- Enhanced heterosexual transmission hypothesis
- Origin of HIV
- Sexually transmitted diseases