1. Editorial Note

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its first report about the disease eventually known as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) on June 5, 1981. (“Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports,” June 5, 1981, 30(21), pages 1–3)

Throughout 1981 and 1982, high-level Reagan policymakers did not comment on the disease. On October 15, 1982, Reagan Press Secretary Larry Speakes was asked if President Reagan had any reaction to the fact that “that AIDS is now an epidemic.” Speakes responded by asking, “What’s AIDS?” The reporter clarified: “It’s known as ‘gay plague,’” adding, “I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died.” Speakes remarked, “I don’t have it. Do you?” When asked if the White House was familiar with the disease, Speakes said, “I don’t think so.” He further commented, “There has been no personal experience here.” (White House Press Briefing, October 15, 1982)

On September 2, 1983, the CDC issued a set of precautions about AIDS to health care professionals, including dentists, pathologists, and morticians. (“Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports,” September 2, 1983, 32(34), pages 450–511) Shortly after the release of CDC’s guidelines, AIDS was discussed at the Regional Science Officers Conference in Rome, Italy, September 7–9. At the conference, a speaker from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. William Raub, described the international implications of the AIDS problem as well as the outlook for funding U.S. medical research, as conveyed in telegram 282977 to all European diplomatic posts, October 4. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, D830574–0629)