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Responding to AIDS - Home   |    About this Exhibit - Introduction   |    AIDS Emerges   |    Poised to Respond   |    New Programs: Working Together   |    Responding to Fear   |    The AIDS Prevention Project   |    A Leader in Research, Education, and Housing   |   
   |    Expanding Outreach   |    Needle Exchanges   |    The AIDS Omnibus Act: New Mandates   |    Safer Sex: The New Normal?   |   The Legacy   |    Gallery   |    Oral Histories    |    References and Resources

The Legacy

New Medications: A Sea Change

In 1994, researchers reported that the medication AZT was found to decrease the chance that babies of HIV-infected women would be born HIV-infected. Testing and treatment for pregnant women were quickly adopted. The new medications were also found to be effective in slowing or preventing AIDS-related illness in HIV-positive individuals. At first, treatment was provided to those who were close to becoming ill with AIDS. Then, from 2009, increasingly earlier treatment proved to be more effective in preventing illness, and, more recently, antiretroviral medications have been found to be effective in preventing new HIV infections.

The availability of effective treatment changed people’s views on testing, partner notification, and HIV case reporting, as early knowledge of one’s HIV-status could prove life-saving. No longer a death sentence, HIV came to be regarded with less stigma and fear. A negative impact of this change was that some people began to abandon safer-sex practices, leading to an increased incidence of other STD’s, in response to which Public Health renewed its education and prevention efforts.

AIDS: No Longer a Death Sentence

Robert Wood on the development and impact of effective treatment. (Oral history interview, June 2016.)

The Epidemic Peaks

1996 was the first year the CDC reported a national decline in AIDS deaths, attributed both to new medications and a slowing of the epidemic and new cases of HIV.

In the third quarter of 1996, Dr. Robert Wood, looking back at the first ten years of AIDS control, announced in the state’s HIV/AIDS Quarterly Epidemiology Report “the first (and very welcome) news that the local AIDS epidemic has reached a peak.”

But, continued Dr. Wood, it was no time to slacken efforts. People were still becoming sick and dying. Continued and increased support for prevention programs was needed, including “clear and explicit communications about the behaviors which presented risks, and [about] realistic steps to maintain safety…. Our youth are at greatest risk….”

I think it has been beneficial for society to have had to struggle with a very serious disease for which there is yet no cure or preventative vaccine. [Instead of relying on medicines], HIV control has had to rely on…behavior change, targeting socially disparate and disadvantaged communities.

“More frighteningly than many diseases, HIV has also highlighted for us the tight interconnections between diseases and social factors like poverty, homelessness, stigmatization, discrimination, and lack of fully effective sex and drug education.” – Dr. Robert Wood, 1996.

HIV Today in Seattle and King County

By 2015, HIV infection rates had dropped by one-third nationwide. Most of that decline occurred among heterosexuals and injection drug users. On the national level, the infection rate among men who had sex with men remained the same.

But, in contrast to other areas of the country, Seattle-King County showed a decline in HIV among gay men.

In a July 2014 radio interview, Dr. Matthew Golden, director of the Public Health Department’s combined HIV/STD program, credited several historical factors contributing to the department’s comparative success in combating AIDS:

  • Better funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and care in Washington State and King County than nationally
  • A demographic that did not disproportionately include injection drug users
  • Excellent collaboration with engaged community groups to bring AIDS prevention messages to groups at risk, particularly gay men
  • An efficient public health system

AIDS is Not History

Public Health continues to fight HIV/AIDS today. Between 1996 and March 31, 2016, over 2,000 people in King County died of AIDS. And, in the past five years, over 1,200 people have been newly diagnosed as HIV-positive.

(Source: Public Health Seattle/King County HIV/AIDS Quarterly Surveillance Report, through March 31, 2016).

Looking Back

The AIDS epidemic has had a lasting impact on the nation, on the region, and on individuals. In the following clips from the oral histories, interviewees reflect on the epidemic and the AIDS Prevention Project.

Heady Times and Sad Times

Patricia McInturff: creating something from scratch.

LGBT Rights

Robert Wood and Tim Burak on how AIDS (and the response to AIDS) led to greater acceptance of LGBT individuals.


Behavior Change and Outreach

Karen Hartfield: bringing the concept of behavior change into the public health, and community-oriented outreach.


Changes in Medical Practice

Gary Goldbaum: how AIDS activism led to changes in public health and medicine, such as accelerated drug testing and trials.


Personal Impact

Sharon Hopkins: the personal impact of working for the AIDS Prevention Project.


Grassroots Fundraising

Robert Wood: AIDS Walks as a model for grassroots fundraising campaigns for other diseases and issues.


Stigma and Quality Care

Gary Goldbaum: how AIDS made us recognize the potential impact of stigma around a disease, and the need for sustained resources to ensure that those in need receive quality care.


The Ground Shifted

Ann Downer: everything changed with AIDS.


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.