Thirty years ago on April 23, 1984, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler stepped up to the podium and announced, "The probable cause of AIDS has been found."
Heckler would gone to announce the new virus was "a variant of a known cancer virus." She was, of course, referring to the initial classification of HIV as HTLV-III. HTLV stands for Human T-cell Leukemia Virus. The virus was initially misclassified as belonging to the family of a cancer viruses Dr. Robert Gallo had discovered several years earlier.
We now know, of course, the virus does not belong to this family of virus, and instead represented a novel strain of virus and a new family.
Watch part of Heckler's announcement:
Of course, 30 years on, we know that the virus Gallo trumpeted as his discovery was in fact a virus cultured from a patient from Paris. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France had isolated the virus, and sent to Gallo's lab to verify their findings in order to publish their findings. Gallo and Pasteur Institute researcher Dr. Luc Montagneir wrote in a New England Journal of Medicine editorial, that Gallo's cell lines had been accidentally infected by the Paris viral isolate.
The discovery of the virus, of course, led directly to the development of the HIV antibody test. We are now on the fourth generation of such tests, with each generation becoming more sensitive and more specific.