Invited Commentary: A Landmark Study Launched in a Public Health Maelstrom

Am J Epidemiol. 2017 Jun 1;185(11):1157-1160. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwx079.


The acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic was first recognized in 1981, and it quickly became a public health emergency. In a 1987 paper in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Am J Epidemiol. 1987;126(2): 310-318), Richard Kaslow et al. described the launch of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), a cohort study of homosexual men in 4 US cities, the purpose of which was to better understand the natural history of AIDS and its determinants. The MACS enrolled participants through a range of community contacts. These efforts facilitated rapid recruitment, but given the targeted approaches, participants tended to comprise high-risk social networks. At baseline, 4%-26% of participants at the 4 sites reported having a sexual partner who had developed AIDS. Kaslow et al. also described baseline testing for the causative agent of AIDS, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV seroprevalence was remarkably high, ranging from 11%-26% across age groups in Pittsburgh to 38%-53% in Los Angeles. The major turning point in the epidemic occurred in 1995-1996 when combination antiretroviral therapy was introduced, effectively blocking HIV replication and markedly reducing AIDS morbidity and mortality. The MACS cohort continues to be followed actively 3 decades after its launch and has proven to be an important resource for information on HIV infection and AIDS.

Keywords: AIDS; HIV; epidemic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Epidemics
  • Epidemiologic Studies*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • Homosexuality, Male / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Sexual Partners
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / epidemiology