It’s been 40 years since the first reported cases of AIDS. While treatments have come a long way, a vaccine remains elusive.

As New York’s hospitals filled with pneumonia patients last spring, Dr. Michael Gottlieb flashed back to the earliest days of another mysterious illness. For months, Gottlieb had vainly treated a young man with an unrelenting fever. The man developed pneumonia from a usually harmless virus and his mouth was covered with a fungus that made it hard for him to swallow or eat.

Another young man soon turned up with similar symptoms. Then, over the course of a few months, three more previously healthy Los Angeles men came down with the same constellation of problems. As he watched them die, Gottlieb was both concerned and intrigued. At 33, he was roughly the same age. Their care became personal as well as professional.

Gottlieb and several colleagues contacted the Centers for Disease Control, which asked them to write up their findings. On June 5, 1981, exactly 40 years ago, their report was published, describing the cases of these five, young gay men whose immune systems had suddenly stopped protecting them, defying every treatment Gottlieb and others tried.

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