Returning from a visit to Haiti only a few years into the AIDS epidemic, I was taken ill with a mysterious fever and admitted to an infectious diseases unit where all the other patients had AIDS. The staff walked about in what looked like spacesuits, terrified of contamination by the patients, including me. In the event, I had a banal viral illness probably transmitted by mosquito; but my experience was powerfully indicative of the fear that the epidemic raised even among the sophisticated before its mode of communication was thoroughly elucidated. A couple of years later I observed with astonishment, and not a little disdain, a senior medical colleague of mine refuse to enter a room occupied by a patient who had AIDS.
In this book, Jacques Pepin, an infectious diseases physician from Canada who worked early in his career in rural Zaire, traces the biological and epidemiological origins of what he calls the worst pandemic since the Black Death (though possibly the Spanish Flu at the end of the First