Ten years ago Dr Peter Duesberg was a lone voice in the world of AIDS research. At that time, the molecular biologist, world-renowned virologist, and University of California Los Angeles professor began asking a question that seems like heresy to this day: Is it possible that we were wrong when we equated HIV with AIDS?
While any scientific discussion should allow such a challenge, others tried to silence Dr Duesberg. AIDS research continues to be driven by the hypothesis that HIV is the cause, with virtually all our medical and scientific resources invested in this hypothesis. But several outstanding scientific voices are joining Dr Duesberg in denouncing this approach. Witness the report published in mid-1993 by a group of Australian researchers led by Dr Eleni Papadopoulos-Eleopulos. In this breakthrough report, the scientists raise serious questions about the accuracy of HIV antibody tests and, more important, the very relationship between HIV and AIDS.
They show that the HIV tests produce inconsistent results, both within one laboratory that tested a sample twice and between two labs that tested the same sample. What's more, it's nearly impossible to determine the rate of false positives because there is no gold standard to independently verify test results, as reported in the New York Native. And that's not all. Among other things, the researchers also found that HIV cannot be isolated in all AIDS patients, but HIV can be found in people who are HIV-antibody negative.
They found that people with non-AIDS diseases have antibodies that can register a positive result on the HIV-antibody test. They found that the p24 antigen is not, as is widely believed, an indicator of HIV infection or AIDS. Indeed, people with multiple sclerosis, T-cell lymphoma, generalised warts, and other diseases have the p24 antigen.
In short, it's time to face the disturbing notion that much of what we've been told about AIDS is incorrect. Here are some of the factors that have led scientists to challenge the well-entrenched hypothesis that HIV equals AIDS.
First, AIDS remains in high-risk groups. The claim that HIV is the sole cause of AIDS has a lot of holes, says Dr Robert S. Root-Bernstein, a professor of physiology at Michigan State University and the MacArthur Prize-winning author of Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus. The most striking flaw in the logic is that AIDS has not spread to the general population; it continues to be concentrated in high-risk groups such as subsets of the homosexual population, I.V. drug users and their sexual partners.
In the heterosexual population, the percentage of people with HIV or AIDS who are not drug users is extremely low, according to figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, points out Dr Charles Thomas, president of the Helicon Foundation in San Diego, a former Harvard professor, and a member of the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV-AIDS Hypothesis. Two-thirds of the people who come down with AIDS admit to being homosexuals. One-third do not, says Dr Thomas. To date, the CDC lists almost 300,000 people with AIDS. That leaves 100,000people over an 11-year period, not a very great number. And within this group, a very large proportion are drug users and, in particular, intravenous-drug users.
Second, the scientific proof is lacking. According to Dr Thomas, proponents of the HIV-AIDS connection have yet to offer any genuine scientific proof that the virus causes AIDS. Any time scientists propose that a micro-organism causes a disease, it's incumbent upon them to come up with the proof that it does. So far they have failed to supply that proof, he says.
Remember, it's been nearly a decade since HIV was first deemed the cause of AIDS, so scientists have had plenty of time to offer compelling, foolproof evidence. It was on April 23, 1984, that Margaret Heckler announced to the world that the cause of AIDS had been found, namely, HIV. Robert Gallo's colleagues said that his research made possible a blood test for AIDS and that a vaccine could be ready for testing in two or three years. That was in 1984, and nothing has happened in almost ten years.
Causative Factor in Disease
In addition, certain rules of science must be followed for any agent to be considered a causative factor in disease, adds Dr Roger Cunningham, an immunologist, microbiologist, and the director of the Ernst Witsky Centre for Immunology at the School of Medicine, the State University of New York, Buffalo.
The first rule is that an agent that's going to be blamed for a disease should be able to be isolated from each and every case of the disease, says Dr Cunningham. That is not true with HIV and AIDS. It's very, very difficult, in many cases of AIDS, to isolate the virus at all from these individuals. The second step is that you should be able to transmit the agent that is [causing] the infectious disease to another animal and have the disease develop in that animal. To the best of my knowledge, that has never been done with the agent we call HIV. The final step, of course, is to remove the agent from the animal which has been infected, put it into another animal, and transmit the disease in this fashion. This, too, has not occurred with HIV.
Dr Arthur Gottlieb, chairperson of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Tulane University School of Medicine, agrees that too little is known about HIV to conclude that it causes AIDS on its own. This is a very complex disease that is poorly understood, at best, states Dr Gottlieb. We know a lot about the HIV virus; it's probably been the most extensively studied virus ever. But in spite of that, we know relatively little about how the virus acts to cause disease.
Continues Dr Gottlieb, When HIV was isolated from people who had the disease we call AIDS, the immediate presumption was that this was the causative agent. It became a very popular idea that this new virus must be causing the disease by itself because it was isolated from patients with the disease and caused damage to cells in the test tube. This ignores the likelihood that there are many other factors involved in determining how this virus causes disease.
Dr Gottlieb further says: The viewpoint has been so firm that HIV is the only cause and will result in disease in every patient, that anyone who challenges that is regarded as politically incorrect. I don't think-as a matter of public policy-we gain by that, because it limits debate and discussion and focuses drug development on attacking the virus rather than attempting to correct the disorder of the immune system, which is central to the disease.
HIV completely Unrelated to AIDS
Professor Richard Strohman, a biologist for 35 years and professor emeritus of cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, believes that HIV may be completely unrelated to AIDS, but that we have no way of knowing this because scientists will not even entertain the possibility that their HIV theory is incorrect. In the old days it was required that a scientist addresses the possibilities of proving his hypothesis wrong as well as right. Now there's none of that in the standard HIV-AIDS program with all its billions of dollars, says Prof Strohman.
Dr Gottlieb concludes that it's best to keep an open mind when so little is yet known. If you firmly believe that HIV is the sole causative agent, you're going to try your best to show that it's true. I think, at the moment, we're all best off if we keep our minds open. Nothing has been ruled out at this point.
Third, being antibody- positive protects against disease. No infectious agent causes disease in every person who's infected, assuming natural immune responses are at work, says Professor Steven Jonas, professor of preventive medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Native American Indians in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were decimated by smallpox because their immune systems couldn't produce antibodies to the virus. But that's a different situation. With HIV, the only way we know that people have been infected is because they develop the antibody-a. chemical that the body makes to fight off an infectious agent, such as a virus, bacteria, or fungus-to HIV.
When the body produces an antibody to a disease, there is no historical precedence for it spreading uniformly throughout the population and killing everybody that gets infected, Prof Jonas continues. For example, look at the Black Death that hit Western Europe around 1365. Most people focus on the fact that it killed a third of the population of Western Europe. What they don't consider is that two thirds of the population didn't die. They survived despite the fact that no measures were taken to prevent infection or treat disease.
Absence of Co-factors
Prof Jonas concludes that when the average healthy person is infected with HIV, he or she is highly unlikely to develop AIDS in the absence of co-factors. The basis for his reasoning comes from his own personal experience with tuberculosis bacillus. As a medical student in the late fifties and early sixties,he says, I was exposed to tuberculosis. Although I became infected with the tuberculosis bacillus, I never got tuberculosis and I never will get it. The only thing that changed was that I developed the antibody to the tuberculosis bacillus. Otherwise, my body functions in a healthy way. Similarly, when people become HIV-positive, all that means is that they've got the antibody on board. If their immune system functions in a healthy way, it kills off the virus.
When Magic Johnson announced that he was infected by HIV, Prof Jonas continues, I wrote him a letter saying that assuming he didn't have any other disease or condition that compromised his immune system, and assuming he didn't take AZT, I would wager $10,000 that he would not die of AIDS. I advised Magic Johnson to un-retire and go back to playing in the NBA He took that advice, although I'm sure it was not because I sent him a letter. I think it was highly unfortunate that he was forced to retire. I'm sure that there are any number of players in the NBA who are HIV-positive, and none of them will get AIDS either, unless they have some other disease or condition which compromises their immune system.
Fourth, AIDS is politically, not medically, defined. Why haven't we examined the role of HIV co-factors? Prof Jonas believes it is because we applied a political, rather than a medical, definition to the syndromes patho-physiology. AIDS was first defined during the radical-right Reagan administration, which was filled with homophobes, he says. They saw a disease which appeared to be developing only in the gay-male population - a population which, for whatever internal psychological reasons, they greatly feared. It wasn't until 1987 that Reagan could even bring himself to say the word AIDS. First they tried to ignore the existence of this calamity. They tried to find something very specific to confirm their view that this particular disease was the property of gay men as a group.
At the same time, Prof Jonas adds, there were people who felt that a single-virus theory would be very useful in helping to raise public awareness about the disease. It would help them get the research they thought was necessary and public funding for its treatment by scaring people into believing that while the disease was affecting gay men now, it was eventually going to spread throughout the heterosexual population. This political definition of the disease has proven to be inaccurate and inconsistent with its real medical nature.
Shabby Story of HIV
Adds Dr Charles Thomas, The reason that the whole shabby story of HIV is being held in place is there's so much money riding on it. The federal government is spending about $4 billion on just this single subject, and all that $4 billion is predicated on the idea that HIV causes these diseases. If HIV does not cause these diseases, then that money is being wasted. And I believe it is being wasted. But the people who are the recipients of that money don't want it to stop.
Indeed, Dr Thomas believes that the definition of AIDS has been expanded to generate more funding for AIDS-related diseases. When you watch where the money flows, he says, you can see why the definition was expanded. If you are diagnosed with AIDS, your medical bills are picked up by the Ryan White bill, which supplies $150 million to AIDS treatment and education. Most of the people getting AIDS were males, and females felt left out, so they applied very great pressure in order to open up the definition of AIDS to include women. As a result, they added cervical dysplasia to the definition, and HIV-positive women with cervical dysplasia are now allowed to have their medical bills picked up. The whole thing stinks.
Dr Thomas concludes, I often wonder what would happen if all federal money for AIDS-education, research, treatment, and so forth - was suddenly turned off, instantaneously dropped to zero. It's my belief that AIDS would go away. In other words, the AIDS diseases that we see today would be reassigned to their former categories - pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, Kaposi's sarcoma, and the other 25 or so different diseases, now including cervical dysplasia and so forth. Any individual who died of these various causes would add to the statistics in each of these individual categories and would disappear in the profile of mortality of normal disease. AIDS has been a disease of definition. If we said that it didn't exist and didn't pay for it with taxpayers money, it would disappear in the background of normal mortality.
AIDS without HIV
Fifth, AIDS exists without HIV, and HIV exists without AIDS. At an AIDS conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, scientists reported cases of AIDS in people who did not have HIV. Dr Root-Bernstein notes that such cases have been reported since the onset of the condition. A small percentage of the population has been manifesting all the symptoms of AIDS without HIV, he states. The CDC has always recognized this. They call the condition idiopathic CD-4T-cell lymphopenia, a fancy term meaning HIV free AIDS. The number of cases is fairly small, less than one percent, but they do exist. These people get all the symptoms of AIDS and never show any signs of an HIV infection.
What, then, is the role of HIV? he asks. The only way to explain these cases is that the people have other high-risk factors associated with AIDS, such as malnutrition, multiple infections, exposure to symptoms, and drug use. In sufficient quantity or combination, [these factors can] cause the same immune suppression-and therefore the same consequences-that everyone says HIV causes.
Dr Thomas agrees that thousands of people with no evidence of HIV in their system are dying of the syndrome we call AIDS. Forty-three thousand to 44,000 people listed by the CDC as having AIDS in the past 11years have never been tested for antibodies to HIV. You can be sure that there will be a large number of antibody- negatives among them, Dr. Thomas says. Secondly, there are about a million people who have been exposed to the virus, as evidenced by the fact that they have antibodies to the virus in their bloodstream, yet only a trivial portion, approximately three percent, come down with AIDS in any one year. I think these two things are damning evidence against the HIV theory.
HIV spreads like an infectious disease. Contrary to popular belief, says Dr Root-Bernstein, HIV does not appear to be spreading sexually throughout the heterosexual population. The data to support that contention simply isn't there.
AIDS from One-time Sex
There is a famous case of [a woman] who said she got AIDS from having vaginal sex just one time, Dr Root- Bernstein adds. As a researcher, I cannot validate that because I have no access to her medical records to see that she was, in fact, healthy prior to having sex. And I have no way of knowing that she only had vaginal intercourse. Many studies show that unprotected anal intercourse is the highest risk factor [in the spread of HIV and AIDS]. Penile or vaginal bleeding, or both together, is also highly dangerous.
Most doctors never ask about these things, and most patients will not respond, he adds. There are all sorts of possible mitigating factors. Even if HIV could be [sexually] transmitted, in every case where there is good medical evidence, there are always a whole series of other risk factors involved as well.
Of course, no one should take this as an endorsement of unprotected sex. Until all the medical evidence is finally in, all physicians and experts agree that better safe than sorry is the best practical sexual advice available.
But people often assume that if HIV equals AIDS, then they can catch AIDS, says Dr Hans Kugler. And the medical profession does nothing to correct that faulty logic. If I tell you that two plus two equals five, you will be able to disagree because you know some math. If I tell you that HIV is sexually transmitted and causes AIDS, you should know this to be untrue if you are in the medical profession. In medical school, one of the first things everybody is taught is that if you have an infectious disease, you have to show the infectious agent 100 percent of the time in people with the disease. With AIDS this is definitely not the case. Yet the medical profession doesn't see anything wrong with [believing] that [HIV causes AIDS].
To be Contd.