In 1981, a rare form of pneumonia and other rare infections and cancers began to be reported in otherwise healthy young gay men in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
The cause of AIDS was not yet understood, and there was no treatment and no cure.
By 1982, AIDS was known to be transmitted not only by sexual contact, but also by contact with infected blood, through transfusions or shared injection needles. The deadly nature and the potential for rapid spread of the new disease was soon recognized as a public health emergency.
Clipping from the Seattle Gay News, reporting on the first documented case of AIDS in Seattle in 1982.Series 1825 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.
By November, 1982, King County had reported its first case of AIDS. This was an immediate challenge for local public health. The number of cases in the region increased steadily, mostly but not exclusively among gay men. The first deaths in the region occurred in Tacoma and Seattle in the spring of 1983.
The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health participated in public events, organized by health leaders in the gay community, to share the latest medical understanding of the threatened epidemic.
By early 1983 community groups had taken the lead in organizing support and services for people with AIDS. The Seattle Gay Clinic (an all-volunteer organization that provided STD screening, physical exams, counseling, and referrals), the Northwest AIDS Foundation, and others would become important partners to Seattle-King County Public Health.
The Seattle Gay Clinic newsletter Staff Notes
reported on the December 1, 1982, event, “Keeping Our Gay Community Healthy: An Open Forum,” held at Seattle Central Community College. The article included excerpts from presentations by Counselor Dr. Douglas Allmon; Seattle-King County Department of Public Health STD Program Director and University of Washington Associate Professor Dr. Hunter Handsfield; University of Washington Fellow, Division of Infectious Diseases Ann Collier; Seattle Gay Clinic Physician Dr. Tom Marsella; and Seattle Gay Clinic Volunteer Tim Burak.Series 1825 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program. [1825-1-9]
The Chicken Soup Brigade
The Chicken Soup Brigade, which would later merge with the Northwest AIDS Foundation to form the Lifelong AIDS Alliance, began in 1983 as an informal network to help ill and housebound gay men with basic needs like shopping, cooking, and transportation to medical appointments. Seattle Gay Clinic volunteer, Tim Burak, who later served as Project Coordinator for Public Health’s AIDS Prevention Project, helped found the program and proposed the name.
Announcement of the new program from the January, 1983 issue of the Seattle Gay Clinic newsletter.Series 1825 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.
Helping someone with AIDS
Tim Burak describes the first time he helped someone with AIDS through the Chicken Soup Brigade network. (Oral history interview, July 2015.)