AIDS: You Haven't Heard Anything Yet

Health officials wrestle with the onslaught of history's newest epidemic

It was A.D. 1348, one year after the bubonic plague, or black death, had begun its devastating rampage through Europe. In a famous medical treatise French Surgeon Guy de Chauliac of Avignon recalled his impressions of the horror around him: "The father did not visit the son nor the son the father. Charity was dead and hope abandoned . . . For self-preservation there was nothing better than to flee the region before becoming infected."

Guy's patients died within five days of falling ill. Cities were decimated in a matter of months. The scourge was so contagious that, according to Guy,...