How AIDS changed American cultureby Nikki Tundel, Minnesota Public Radio
It was 25 years ago this summer that the first cases of AIDS were reported. Since then, the virus has taken 25 million lives worldwide. But the impact of AIDS has also reached beyond the realm of human health. The disease has transformed American culture.
St. Paul, Minn. — In 1981, a government report announced that five homosexual men had contracted what was then described as an unusual form of pneumonia. This was the first mention of the disease we now know as AIDS.
Over the last 25 years, AIDS has caused more American deaths than World War II and all subsequent military conflicts combined. In the United States, 40,000 people are infected with HIV each year and an estimated one million are already living with the disease.
AIDS has greatly impacted the medical community. But it's has also left its mark on American culture.
AIDS has reshaped nearly every aspect of our society. The disease forced us to talk about end-of-life issues. It gave birth to patient activism. And it prompted discussions about medical privacy. Its influence can be seen in everything from television programming to song lyrics. AIDS forced conversations about sexuality and homosexuality. And many believe it laid the groundwork for current debates over gay marriage and gay rights.
Reporter Nikki Tundel talks with Dr. Jon Hallberg about why the disease has had such a profound effect on American culture. Hallberg is the medical director of the Center for Medical Humanities at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He says our society would be completely different today had we never had to face the AIDS epidemic.