Virus Hunt

Virus Hunt
The Search for the Origin of HIV
by Dorothy H. Crawford
Oxford University Press

Reviewed by Alina Oswald

9780199641147 webTruth is, tracking down the AIDS pandemic to its origins can make for quite an interesting detective story, one in which experts and scientists become hunters, and AIDS and HIV become the hunted. Joining the list of books on this subject, Virus Hunt stands out in that it tracks down the pandemic beyond its cradle, to discover the origins of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In Virus Hunt, Scottish virologist Dorothy H. Crawford offers an engaging and informative read for fans of HIV/AIDS literature—professionals and lay readers alike. Armed with graphs, maps, and tables, and also with a vast reservoir of research data, Crawford meticulously evaluates and documents a series of scenarios, to piece together a detailed scientific, and also human, picture of HIV, to shed new light on the key moments defining the pandemic—the evolutionary tree of SIV and the exact type of SIV from which HIV, especially HIV-1, the most virulent strain, originated; the socioeconomic and political factors, and also human factors that, quite possibly, created the right environment for the first (few) HIV infections to explode into the AIDS pandemic that took over the world.

Virus Hunt is the result of Crawford’s investigative, scientific, and passionate work to find and document the origins of HIV, and trace its history back, from the first infections that surfaced in the U.S. in 1981 to the specific SIV group of simian immunodeficiency viruses that started it all. In Virus Hunt Crawford doesn’t only look at the history of HIV and AIDS, but also at its future and our chance of finding a solution. She predicts that those who are alive today won’t be around to know the final toll of the pandemic, “but by understanding where, how, when and why the virus evolved and spread among us, we can surely work to prevent the next one.”

Alina Oswald is a writer, photographer, and the author of Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS. Contact her at