Skip to main content
King County logo

AIDS Emerges

In 1981, a rare form of pneumonia and other rare infections 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.

In November, 1982, King County 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.


Clipping from the Seattle Gay News, reporting on the first documented case of AIDS in Seattle in 1982 (Series 1825.1.7 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program.)


Public Health staff helped coordinate and participated in community forums on AIDS, such as the one advertised in the above flyer dating from 1982. A subsequent staff newsletter for the Seattle Gay Clinic reported on the forum with verbatim excerpts from a presentation by Public Health STD Program Director Dr. Hunter Handsfield.


The April 1982 issue of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health's employee newsletter, The Carrier, announced the formation of an STD Advisory Group with representatives from the Department's STD Clinic at Harborview Hospital, the Dorian Group, and the Seattle Gay Clinic.

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 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 (Series 1825.1.9 – History files, Seattle-King County Department of Public Health: Prevention Division / HIV-AIDS Program).


Listen below to Tim Burak remembering the first time he helped someone with AIDS through the Chicken Soup Brigade network.

Next: Poised to Respond >>

Responding to AIDS

An exhibit and oral history project from the King County Archives.

Content warning: The archival records featured in this exhibit discuss sexual behavior and illegal drug use. Please direct questions or comments to

Copyright King County Archives, Seattle Washington, June 2016.




Please note: This exhibit features historical materials relating to HIV/AIDS. For current health information, please visit Public Health, Seattle & King County - HIV/AIDS and STD Prevention and Education.



Oral histories produced with support from a 2015 4Culture Heritage Projects Grant.