The emergence of AIDS in major U.S. cities demanded an unprecedented response from the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. Before the syndrome was completely understood and its cause isolated, public health officials embarked on an aggressive program of public education, prevention, patient assessment and counseling, and research. With leadership and input from individuals personally affected by the disease, the Department worked directly with community organizations to develop programs that addressed the unique needs of at-risk populations and people with AIDS. The Department’s AIDS Prevention Project would come to serve as a model for public health agencies across the nation, and it informed responses to future public health crises. The spread of HIV/AIDS in King County would be less significant than in cities such as New York and San Francisco. But by 1996, before effective treatment was developed, over 3,000 people in King County would die from AIDS-related diseases, and the impact of the disease is still felt to this day.
“The ground shifted with AIDS. Our culture shifted, our language shifted, the way we think about relationships, acceptance of different expressions of sexuality — everything changed with AIDS. I don’t think yet, even decades later, people even realize what a pivotal moment that was.” – Ann Downer, AIDS Prevention Project Education Program Coordinator