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In a deathly conspiracy of silence, the medical establishment is ignoring powerful evidence that HIV doesn't spread sexually, and it may in fact be harmless. Celia Farber reports.
They call HIV the AIDS virus, and it's this generation's symbol of terror. It has come to rule us, our lives, our relationships, our sexuality. A microscopic dictator. We have erected buildings, organizations, conferences, and global programs in an attempt to placate it. It is a demon, and we worship it with our terror.
But what is it really? Do we know that HIV is a deadly virus? Do we know for sure that it causes AIDS? The answer is no. We don't know. The final cause, or causes, of AIDS are not known, and the more you learn about HIV, the less you're inclined to believe that it causes AIDS all by itself. More and more scientists are beginning to question the hypothesis that HIV single-handedly creates the chaos in the immune system that leads to AIDS. Despite ten years of intensive research, scientists don't actually know whether HIV is any more than one of the signposts of an immune system gone haywire. The fact is, a growing body of data suggests that HIV isn't the culprit.
The electronic media have offered the American public a very simplified, sound-bite version of AIDS and HIV's role in it. In the swirl of disinformation, politics, and rhetoric that has clouded AIDS discourse, several basic and critical facts have been suppressed or ignored.
In 1991, a study published in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility addressed a very basic question: Can HIV be found in the semen of HIV-positive men? The results were deeply perplexing. Semen samples of 25 HIV-positive men were studied, and it was discovered that only four showed any trace of HIV. While epidemiological reports indicate quite clearly that AIDS is spread two ways – through blood and semen – the findings cast considerable doubt on the role HIV plays in relation to the disease. The authors of the study acknowledged, in a rather understated way, that "...very little information exists regarding [HIV's] prevalence in semen and mechanisms underlying its sexual transmission."
The semen samples were taken from people both with and without AIDS and were tested with a new, hypersensitive technology, known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which measures the presence of viruses far more accurately than previous methods have. Amazingly, however, similar information about HIV and semen has been available almost since HIV was first isolated back in 1984. Dr. Robert Gallo, a top retrovirologist at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), having pronounced the newly discovered retrovirus HIV as the cause of AIDS, published a paper stating that he had found HIV in the semen of two AIDS patients. Curiously, Gallo failed to mention how many patients he had studied and not found HIV in. "We don't know how many people he looked for HIV in. He simply reported that he found it in two," says Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein, a professor of physiology at Michigan State University who has spent the past several years scrutinizing the HIV-AIDS data and is becoming one of the leading authorities on AIDS in this country. "In terms of peer review," he says, "it failed utterly and miserably. It's hard to believe what kind of nonscience they got away with."
Another study, reported around the same time as Gallo's, examined the semen of 12 AIDS patients and found HIV in only one. Yet this seemingly startling observation went largely unnoticed, undiscussed, for years. "Those first two papers were the only ones around on HIV in semen for several years, and they were very misleading," says Root-Bernstein. "They made it seem like, 'Well, we looked at these people and clearly HIV is present in the semen and so AIDS can be transmitted by way of semen.' And that's how it was left. The fact is, we still do not know how AIDS is transmitted."
In 1986 through 1988, several more studies were done on HIV in semen, using more accurate testing methods. "What they found," says Root-Bernstein, "was that between 25 and 30 percent of the AIDS patients they looked at had HIV in their semen. But if you read the paper carefully, it turns out they're talking about one to ten 'copies' per ejaculate, or one copy of virus per million units of sperm, which isn't enough to spread an infection. HIV is present to that degree in saliva, breast milk, vaginal fluid – and those are not modes of transmission. You generally need thousands or millions of copies of any virus for it to be infective."
It is premature and unwise to leap to the conclusion that AIDS is not infectious, but certainly this data raises questions about HIV's infectivity. The very question is so taboo that one hesitates to ask it: How does HIV transmit, if it's not in semen? Dr. Michael Lange, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, believes that AIDS is transmitted sexually, but is skeptical of HIV's role in the transmission of the disease. "I think there's definitely an infectious agent at work here," Lange says. "I'm not entirely convinced that it's HIV, or that it's one agent – it could be a combination. But certainly AIDS is infectious."
We've already been told that HIV isn't spread through any bodily fluids associated with casual contact. And now, we learn that HIV, where it is present in semen, isn't detectable in quantities large enough to be infectious. Something is wrong with the picture. "I've heard," says Root-Bernstein, "that they're pretty concerned about this over at the NIH. I would be, too, if I were them."
Although scientists at the NIH were unavailable for comment, a spokesperson at the NIH headquarters says that while two workshops have been held on the question of how HIV transmits, in light of the semen studies, researchers do not feel that the 1991 data is significant. They claim that a 1992 study found HIV in the semen of 28 out of 28 studied.
The study, published by the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, in fact confirms the 1991 data, if you look closely enough. HIV was not found in 28 out of 28, but rather HIV antibodies were found in only 7 of the 28, which reflects the 25 percent figure found in earlier studies.
It's important to distinguish between HIV antibodies – which aren't infectious – and HIV itself. Antibodies are like footprints – evidence that the body has come into contact, at some point, with the virus. Generally, when the body produces antibodies, that means it has neutralized the infection. This is the underlying principle of vaccination, which tricks the body into mass-producing antibodies. The so-called "AIDS test" actually tests for HIV antibodies, not the virus itself – which is difficult and costly to test for and therefore not routinely measured.
Even in patients with full-blown AIDS, HIV is often hard to locate. Studies of AIDS patients have shown, since HIV was isolated in 1984, that only 50 percent of them have evidence of the virus itself, while 90 percent have antibodies. A good percentage of those who are HIV-positive may not actually have the virus.
Several studies have calculated that it takes between 500 and 1,000 unprotected sexual encounters before an HIV-negative partner seroconverts to HIV-positive. But confusingly, there have also been cases in which people swear they've gotten AIDS from one single sexual act. Although the media favour the dramatic, terror-ridden, Russian roulette model of HIV-AIDS transmission, it is noteworthy that those cases are so rare that we know each victim by name. Alison Gertz, for instance, the young, affluent heterosexual woman who said she caught AIDS from a man she slept with once, has graced magazine covers across the country. Suddenly, the media were making a tremendous deal out of what is in reality a very rare example, while insisting that the cases like it were the wave of the future.
How HIV is or isn't spreading has been one of the most inflammatory points of the entire AIDS debate. But by now it seems clear that the "explosion" of heterosexual AIDS is a no-show. A recent flurry of press reports has drummed up hysteria again, saying HIV can now been found in one out of every 250 Americans, suggesting rampant spread. In fact, this figure suggested the opposite, if you do the math. There are 250 million Americans. If 1 in 250 has HIV, that's 1 million people – less than the previously predicted figure of 1.5 and 2 million.
Regardless of how many HIV-positive people there are, the number of potential cases of AIDS in the heterosexual community appears to be self-limiting, because unlike most sexually transmitted diseases (STD's), AIDS does not transmit easily in both directions between males and females, therefore inhibiting heterosexual spread. In New York City, for example, adult cases of AIDS in 1990 as a result of female-to-male transmission totalled one. In 1991, there were none. Since 1981, out of a total of 30,943 men with AIDS in New York, there have been only eleven documented cases of female-to-male transmission.
It's the same in Europe. A recent report in the English medical journal The Lancet tested 4,097 women attending pregnancy clinics in London. Only one tested positive for HIV who could not be tied to one of the groups most at risk for AIDS, such as haemophiliacs or intravenous drug users. Germany reports a grand total of four presumed heterosexual transmissions of HIV not tied to other high-risk behaviour since the virus was first tracked.
The question of the heterosexual AIDS explosion has been volleyed back and forth between the two opposing camps – those who say it will happen and those who say it won't – for years, unresolved despite a conclusive body of data that shows AIDS is not erupting among heterosexuals. The vast campaign to convince the heterosexual community that "AIDS does not discriminate" is turning out to be politically correct but factually bankrupt AIDS-speak. Ten years after the first AIDS cases appeared, it still remains contained, for the most part, among the initial risk groups.
Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, a pioneering AIDS researcher and founder of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR), walked out on the organization he had started primarily because he refused to participate in what he saw as a fraudulent terror campaign. "The AIDS Medical Foundation was sending out this press release saying that nobody is safe, everybody is going to get it – and all that." He recalls. "When I heard this, I totally freaked out. It was all just nonsense. I called them up and said, 'Do you know what's going to happen as a result of what you are doing? You're going to freak out heterosexual men, you're going to destroy relationships, marriages. And another thing, you're going to promote violence against gay men. People are going to say this thing is a plague and it's coming from gay men, and they're going to beat them up at random.' All of which has come true."
At the time, however, AmFAR's then public relations director, Terry Beirn, who has since died of AIDS, was not about to let Sonnabend or anybody else get in the way of the fund-raising that was just getting into full swing. "I couldn't fight Terry," says Sonnabend. "He was very determined. It was pretty clear already then that AIDS was not a significant threat to heterosexuals. He knew that this heterosexual AIDS thing was a hoax, but he said we have to do it to raise money. And certainly, you could argue that unless those heterosexual male politicians in Washington thought that sex could kill, they weren't going to release any money. But my response to that was, if you raise money on a false premise, that money's going to be put to no good. And in fact, that's exactly what happened. The money was raised to protect heterosexual men from a disease they're not going to get anyway. So what have these hundreds of millions of research dollars given us? Nothing. AIDS education? All I see is terror and confusion. And AZT, which is a disaster."
"But on the other hand, I can see the value in supporting this notion of spread, primarily in order to protect women," he adds. "Because women are getting AIDS from men, but men are not getting AIDS from women. And men will only wear condoms if they think themselves are at risk."
"The only interesting thing about any disease is how to control it," says British epidemiologist Gordon Stewart, who was asked by the World Health Organization (WHO) to write a report on social and behavioural factors in communicable diseases, including AIDS, in 1983. Now retired, Stewart, emeritus professor of public health at the University of Glasgow, has been making statistical projections of AIDS for several years. His projections are based on what the pattern of spread has been – not what it might be in an imagined worst-case scenario. While projections made by the WHO and other health organizations have been grossly exaggerated, by tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands from what has actually come to pass, Stewart's have been uncannily precise, sometimes off by just a few cases.
"Nobody wants to look at the facts about this disease," says Stewart. "It's the most extraordinary thing I've ever seen. I've sent countless letters to medical journals pointing out the epidemiological discrepancies and they simply ignore them. The fact is, this whole heterosexual AIDS thing is a hoax."
Female prostitutes – the most obvious risk group for any STD, are baffling AIDS researchers. Among American prostitutes, HIV is not spreading, despite studies showing that most of them do not generally use condoms. And even if they had begun to use condoms in recent years, surely cases should have been cropping up from the years before there was awareness about AIDS. But all the studies with prostitutes conclude the same thing: HIV is primarily found among prostitutes who are also IV-drug users.
Stewart doesn't buy the hype also that AIDS is caused by HIV alone: "It's an unpopular view, but I've always said that AIDS is a behavioural disease. It is multifactorial, brought on by several simultaneous strains on the immune system – drugs, pharmaceutical and recreational, sexually transmitted diseases, multiple viral infections."
AIDS has been lodged in the public's mind as a sexually transmitted disease, above all else. But no other STD behaves this way. Gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes, and genital warts, for instance, all spread rapidly and indiscriminately, and the organisms that cause them are found in abundance in semen.
"Viruses work exponentially," says Dr. Peter Duesberg, a molecular biologist and a central protagonist of the HIV debate since 1987. "Their purpose is to infect as many people as possible in as short a period of time as possible. They rise until they hit a plateau." But HIV's estimated level of spread is the same today as it was in 1985, when it was estimated at around 1 million. According to Duesberg, since it's not spreading exponentially, this suggests another startling possibility: that HIV is not a new virus, it's an old one. Which means it would have been around a lot longer than AIDS has, so, if it causes the disease, why didn't it before?
When the first small explosion of AIDS cases appeared around 1980, in gay men in New York and San Francisco, it took a few years before anybody really took notice. But as the cases accelerated, interest grew, until finally the new disease was being caused by a deadly transmissive agent, and they were knocking each other to find it.
The field of retrovirology took off in 1970 with the discovery of a group of viruses that convert their RNA to DNA by an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Although retroviruses are common in animals, they had never been known to cause disease in humans before. Robert Gallo, an ambitious retrovirologist from the NCI, had discovered the first human retrovirus in 1980 which he called HTLV-I, and tried to prove it caused a certain type of leukemia in Japan. When his theory failed to gain acceptance, Gallo was infuriated. By 1983, he was publishing papers trying to convince his peers that it also caused AIDS.
Gallo, working for the omnipotent National Institutes of Health medical complex, of which NCI is part, steamrolled his way through the scientific process by way of intimidation, meeting very little resistance on the way. "The whole thing about HTLV-I and AIDS was ridiculous, but nobody would say a word against Bob Gallo," recalls Dr. Sonnabend. "When a few colleagues and I tried to show that HTLV-I was not involved in AIDS, all the journals refused to publish it."
On April 23, 1984, at a packed press conference in Washington D.C., Gallo made his way to the podium through throngs of reporters and TV cameras to make his historic announcement: The cause of AIDS had been found. Bulbs flashed. Cameras clicked furiously. It was a new retrovirus, supposedly isolated in Gallo's lab; he was calling it HTLV-III, to assert that it was a member of the family of so-called leukemia retroviruses he discovered previously.
What Gallo didn't mention was that the same virus had been isolated in France almost a year earlier, and dubbed LAV. The French research team from the Pasteur Institute, headed by Dr. Luc Montagnier, had isolated the virus and sent it to Gallo, asking him to take a look at it. The French were cautious – they were not at all prepared to say that the new virus was the cause of AIDS. All they had was a strong correlation between it and AIDS patients. Most, though not all, AIDS patients had antibodies to the virus. Half of them had detectable live virus. And in the test tube, HIV seemed to be killing T cells, the same immune system cells that were wiped out in AIDS patients. It wasn't, however, killing very many cells.
But Gallo was convinced. As an aggressive and notorious contender in the burgeoning new field of retrovirology, Gallo was determined to prove that a retrovirus could cause a fatal disease. Never quite accepted into the top ranks of science, Gallo stalked onto the wide-open scene of AIDS research, determined to settle the score on HTLV-I as well as several other false alarms and scientific setbacks that had characterized his turbulent career. Year after year, he had been trying to gain acceptance into the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, but with his weak reputation among his peers as a scientist, the Academy kept rejecting him. Now, claiming to have discovered the virus that caused AIDS, Gallo's moment appeared to have arrived.
In her introductory speech, Margaret Heckler, then secretary of health and human services, mentioned "other discoveries...in different parts of the world," but the gold medal belonged to America. "Today we add another miracle to the long honour roll of American medicine and science," she said, smiling for the cameras, Gallo at her side. Then she made the next great claim. The discovery of the virus, she promised, would launch the development of a vaccine against AIDS that would be available by 1986.
Dr Sonnabend remembers the period following Gallo's announcement well. It quickly became clear to him, as well as many scientists, that what Gallo was claiming as his own discovery was really the virus that the French had discovered. "I remember feeling sick to my stomach," says Sonnabend, "I wanted to protest, but all my colleagues told me to just keep quiet. And none of the science reporters seemed to see what was going on." Pictures later released of Gallo's HTLV-III were identical to pictures of Montagnier's LAV, and the only way they could have been identical is if they came from the same patient.
Montagnier had actually sent LAV samples to Gallo twice. The second time, in September of 1983, he also sent a contract stating that the American lab could not use the samples for commercial interests. The very same day that the press conference was held in Washington, a U.S. patent was filed on an HIV test kit developed by Gallo. The market for AIDS testing kits was estimated at $100 million per year.
A war erupted. The French government sued the American government for the rights to the patent and credit for the discovery of the virus that would eventually be named HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. The whole affair was quieted down very quickly; U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the French prime minister Jacques Chirac intervened and forged an agreement. The two countries would share proceeds from HIV testing, and each scientist, Montagnier and Gallo, would be credited as "codiscoverer" of HIV.
In retrospect, that HIV was the cause of AIDS was certainly far from conclusively proven. But at the time, given the pressure, the intensity, the public fear, the newness of it all, and the glory of the new discovery, the American scientific community settled for less. The announcement was made. An industry was born. A whole generation of retrovirologists was suddenly given its raison d'être.
"Gallo was certainly committing open and blatant scientific fraud," Sonnabend says. "But the point is not to focus on Gallo. It's us – all of us in the scientific community, we let him get away with it. None of this was hidden. It was all out in the open but nobody would say a word against Gallo. It had a lot to do with patriotism – the idea that this great discovery was made by an American."
Dr. Lange echoes the regret of many practicing AIDS physicians. "I was far from convinced by the data they had then and I'm still not convinced," he says. "We were all forced into a very dogmatic and simplistic view of what caused AIDS. Today, I think even the greatest proponents of HIV no longer believe that it does all that damage to the immune system by itself. There have to be other factors involved. And because of the HIV hypothesis, there's been little or no research done on what those other factors may be."
"I was very upset," Lange continues. "The cause of AIDS was discovered by government fiat. I had been working with the Pasteur Institute for six months, but then that announcement was made at the press conference. As far as I'm concerned, from that point on AIDS research turned into seedy, criminal politics, and it remained that way."
Dr. Kary Mullis, a biochemist and the inventor of PCR, shakes his head. "Why they did it," he says, "I cannot figure out. Nobody in their right mind would jump into this thing like they did. The secretary of health just announcing to the world like that that this man Robert Gallo, wearing those dark sunglasses, had found the cause of AIDS. It had nothing to do with any well-considered science. There were some people who had AIDS and some of them had HIV – not even all of them. So they had a correlation. So what?"
It was in 1987 that molecular biologist Peter Duesberg launched his first blistering attack on the HIV-AIDS theory in the journal Cancer Research. Duesberg, a world-renowned scientist and long-standing member of the National Academy of Sciences, was in an ideal position to take a crack at AIDS. He had discovered oncogenes (cancer-causing genes), and had helped map the genetic structure of retroviruses. Even Gallo boasted that his then friend and colleague Duesberg "knows more about retroviruses than any man alive." Duesberg was one of only 23 scientists in the country deemed worthy of prestious NIH "Outstanding Investigator Grant" which specifies that the recipient "venture into new territory," "conduct high-risk research," and "ask creative questions."
Well, Duesberg did. He asked how HIV, a latent, inactive retrovirus, could kill billions of cells when it infected only a few. How could it cause a deadly disease when it could barely be isolated in patients even in the last stages of disease? How could there be AIDS patients with no trace of HIV? And why wasn't there an animal model for HIV – in other words, when HIV was injected into test animals, why didn't they get AIDS?
Duesberg read every single paper written on AIDS and HIV, and spent nine months writing his paper for Cancer Research, in which he concluded that HIV, far from being a deadly virus, is harmless. "I wouldn't mind being injected with that virus," he stated flatly. "It's harmless."
At first there was silence, a kind of stunned, embarrassed silence. Gallo, when asked by a few journalists and the odd medical journal editor, to respond to Duesberg's criticisms of his theory, simply blustered that his claims were too ridiculous to waste precious time answering. The rest of the scientific community followed suit and simply ignored Duesberg.
At the time, the notion that HIV was the undisputed cause of AIDS was so entrenched that Duesberg seemed to come out of nowhere, like some kamikaze pilot smashing into the side of a building. The first reaction to him was shock, followed by anger, perhaps some pity. Here was a brilliant, respected scientist, just a breath away from a Nobel for his discovery of oncogenes, who suddenly and inexplicably went off his rocker. And yet however hard his detractors tried, they couldn't quite dismiss the fact that Duesberg is one of the world's foremost authorities on retroviruses. Duesberg was known as a "troublemaker"; in the '70's, after discovering viral oncogenes, he turned around and said that another type, cellular oncogenes, couldn't cause cancer. So this was not the first but the second time he was raining on the parade – sawing off the branch both he and his colleagues were sitting on.
It didn't take long before he was excommunicated: He was no longer invited to speak at scientific conferences, or if he was, he was asked to promise not to bring up HIV. For the first time in his 25-odd years of practising science, he could not get papers published. Then came the death blow: In October 1990, Duesberg was informed that his $350,000-a-year research grant would be terminated when it ran out in 1992. Duesberg, a native German, had been funded by the U.S. government for over 20 years, but with this, he would be effectively silenced. He appealed the decision, pleading conflict of interest: The review committee that made the decision to discontinue his funding included Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, Gallo's long-time mistress and the mother of one of his children, and Dr. Dani Bolognesi, who holds a long-term patent on HIV antibody tests. The appeal was rejected, although a few government officials have rallied to Duesberg's defence, among them Congressmen Ron Dellums and William Dannemeyer.
For years, the AIDS research establishment has kept a lid on the controversy by throwing the same old bone to those who questioned. It was a nonanswer, to say the least: Every "thinking scientist," they assured us, is convinced that HIV is the cause of AIDS.
This is hardly true. In the past year, a group of 40 scientists, including a number of eminent retrovirologists, epidemiologists, and immunologists, have banded together to form a coalition that calls itself the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/AIDS Hypothesis. Founded by Harvard biologist Dr. Charles A. Thomas, Jr., who has been following the debate since 1987, when Duesberg's first paper was published, the group's purpose is to ensure that the question of what causes AIDS is opened to scientific debate and held to critical scrutiny. Asked what inspired him to put the group together, Dr. Thomas said, "I feel that for scientists to remain silent in the face of all this doubt is tantamount to criminal negligence."
By 1990, even Dr. Luc Montagnier, the French discoverer of HIV, had backed away from the notion that HIV alone causes AIDS. Montagnier stunned his colleagues at the International AIDS Conference in San Francisco in 1990, when he announced that HIV could not cause AIDS without a cofactor. He proposed as a cofactor a bacterial agent known as mycoplasma, which Dr. Shyh-Ching Lo of the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology discovered causes AIDS-like disease and death when injected into monkeys. Montagnier's brief presentation was met with outbursts of anger from his American colleagues in the audience. He left the conference early and flew back to Paris.
Last Year, John Maddox, the editor of one of the world's top science journals, Nature, sent shockwaves through the scientific communities in both the United States and Great Britain when he wrote an editorial essentially apologizing for not giving more credence to Duesberg's views. What prompted him, among other things, was a study that showed that mice, when injected with their own lymphocytes (immune system cells, of which T-cells are one class), may test positive for HIV antibodies despite never having been exposed to HIV. Maddox wrote, "Now there is some evidence to support [Duesberg's] long fight against the establishment (among sadly he counts this journal)." He concluded his piece, which speculated that AIDS could be an autoimmune disorder, by saying that although he by no means feels that HIV is irrelevant to AIDS, the new research proves that AIDS is infinitely more complex than the original theory proposed. "Duesberg will be saying, 'I told you so,'" he wrote. The editorial was met with shock and outrage, and Maddox printed a partial retraction the next month, reassuring the scientific community that he was not saying he agreed with Duesberg about HIV, but that, as he said in a subsequent interview, there was more to AIDS than "baby-talk stories we've all been fed for years."
Flash forward: A federal investigation on Gallo has been going on for almost three years. Back in 1989, in the Chicago Tribune, investigative reporter John Crewdson revealed in merciless detail how Gallo allegedly took as his own the virus sent to his lab by Montagnier, thereby explaining how they both independently discovered identical viruses.
On March 1 of this year, the New York Times reported on an internal NIH investigation which concluded that discrepancies in Gallo's 1984 paper printed in the prestigious journal Science – one of four Gallo published around the same time on how HIV causes AIDS – stemmed from "misrepresentation and falsifications." Now, Gallo having already admitted that he may have mistakenly contaminated his own samples with Montagnier's (the other possibility, still under investigation, is that Gallo stole the virus outright), the French government is demanding full recognition for the discovery of the virus, and suing the United States for approximately $20 million the U.S. has received from royalties on HIV testing kits, as well as the several hundred thousand dollars in royalties that Dr. Gallo has received personally.
Peter Duesberg shrugs. "To me that whole affair is just a story of who stole whose fake diamonds," he says. "The point that everybody is missing is that all those original papers Gallo wrote on HIV have been found fraudulent. Well, then, that throws into question the entire HIV hypothesis, doesn't it? The HIV hypothesis was based on those papers."
The HIV hypothesis is essentially this: When a person is exposed to HIV, the virus gobbles up T cells like a Pac-Man, gradually eating away at the immune system until it finally collapses, leaving the victim vulnerable to a vast array of infections – ultimately fatal – that the immune system would normally be able to combat.
Duesberg's main point, which few in the scientific community debate, is that HIV infects and kills only an insignificant number of cells, about 1 in 10,000, and the body replenishes cells much faster than this.
"It's like saying you're going to conquer China by shooting three soldiers a day," Duesberg says. "It would take forever."
Many AIDS researchers acknowledge this, but evasively point to "unknown mechanisms" underlying HIV's cell-killing activity. Their logic depends on a strange assumption: Since the cells are missing and HIV is present, HIV must be killing the cells, they reason. They've constructed widely divergent speculations about how this cell-killing action takes place. Recently, in the New York Times, three very different ideas were elaborated. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and one of the highest-ranking government scientists working on AIDS, said all three were plausible.
In the United States, of the 1 million Americans estimated to be positive for HIV antibodies, only 3 percent, or 30,000, go on each year to develop symptoms of AIDS. While 75 percent of all haemophiliacs have been exposed to HIV-infected blood, only 1 percent annually have been diagnosed with AIDS, and many of those cases may actually be the result of immune suppression brought on by regular dosing of immune suppressive blood-clotting products. In 1989, a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology compared the immune abnormalities of a group of HIV-positive haemophiliacs with those of an HIV-negative group and found them to be identical in both groups. Another study, published in 1985 in the American Journal of Haematology, offered similar results. "The results of our study as well as the results of previous studies," the authors reported, "allow us to hypothesize similarly that frequent and long-lasting exposure to protein blood products may render haemophilic patients immunologically unresponsive by assaulting their immune system every time they receive clotting factor."
Although it has been said that transfusion recipients who were infused with HIV-tainted blood have died from AIDS brought on by HIV, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1989 compared those deaths with transfusion recipients who had not been exposed to HIV and found that the death rates were similar. While 41 percent of those who were known to have been infected with HIV died within a year of transfusion, 50% of those who had not been exposed to HIV also died within a year of transfusion. The authors of the study concluded that the recipients who had gotten AIDS had also been through more transfusions than those who hadn't gotten AIDS. They wrote, "Recipients who have received more transfusions, may be exposed to other viral cofactors, or may have more severe underlying medical conditions."
Tragically, no study has ever been done to determine what factors, aside from HIV, AIDS patients have in common. It has been reported anecdotally, however, in testimonies from doctors with large AIDS practices and from AIDS support-group leaders, that those who come down with AIDS, like haemophiliacs and multiple-transfusion recipients, have a wide range of immunosuppressive factors aside from HIV.
Many people with AIDS tend to have a history of repeated STD's, and have overused both antibiotic and recreational drugs. Dr. Sonnabend and others have theorized that repeated exposures to different semens can severely compromise the immune system. Infants, it is argued, inherit the drug addiction of their mother, so if she is debilitated from drug abuse the child will be born with a failing immune system, regardless of HIV.
Because HIV is believed to cause death, we've wound up in a perpetual chicken-or-the-egg state of confusion. If HIV is present and death or disease occurs, HIV is held responsible. Rarely is the possibility considered that identical scenarios can take place without HIV – that all diseases associated with AIDS can occur on their own, particularly in already immune-compromised individuals. Various studies have reported on dozens of cases of indisputable full blown AIDS in which no trace of HIV could be found. How do the proponents of HIV explain cases like these? Their answer is simple, if unscientific. The virus is hiding. Every single discrepancy connecting the virus to AIDS is swept under the carpet with the explanation that the virus is simply mysterious, that it causes destruction silently, invisibly, inexplicably. Despite evidence that it's barely there. The medical research establishment has spent ten years and nearly $2 billion studying, splicing, sequencing, cultivating this virus, and yet it hasn't gained an inch on it. How could this virus be so immensely complex and advanced, and cause symptoms as diverse as those seen in AIDS?
While the majority are comfortable with the explanation that HIV is simply that new and mysterious, other scientists insists the virus is downright ordinary.
Kary Mullis is one of them. Although Mullis's PCR technique is now used in virtually every HIV study, he is, ironically, a member of the Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV/AIDS Hypothesis. "The mystery of that damn virus," he says, "has been generated by the $2 billion a year they spend on it. You take any other virus, and spend $2 billion, and you can make up some great mysteries about it, too."
Mullis's invention has gained him world-wide recognition and made him a contender for a Nobel Prize. Using PCR, a kind of molecular amplifier, scientists are now able to see viral particles in cells that they couldn't detect before. Like a great searchlight turned on the seething dark world of organisms, PCR makes it impossible for viruses to hide. Ironically, when the techniques was first applied to HIV research around 1989, researchers claimed to have put to rest Duesberg's complaint that HIV was barely detachable in cells. Several articles touted the news that with PCR, HIV was 100 times more detectable. But to this day, Mullis fails to see the connection between his invention, HIV and AIDS.
"PCR made it easier to see that certain people are infected with [HIV]," Mullis says, "And some of those people came down with symptoms of AIDS. But that doesn't begin, even, to answer the question, 'Does HIV cause it?' Human beings are full of retroviruses. We don't know if it's hundreds, or thousands, or hundred of thousands. We've only recently started to look for them. But they've never killed anybody before. People have always survived retroviruses."
This has always been one of Duesberg's main arguments – that retroviruses have never caused human disease. "Retroviruses typically don't kill cells," says Duesberg. "On the contrary. They often promote cell growth. Retroviruses have never posed a treat to humans. My feeling is that virtually the whole field of retrovirology is redundant. So it's no wonder they're so obsessed about HIV. It's all they have to justify their work with!"
Harvey Bialy, editor of the science journal Bio/Technology, has been skeptical from the start. "HIV is an ordinary retrovirus." he says. "There is nothing about this virus that is unique. Everything that is discovered about HIV has an analogue in other retroviruses that don't cause AIDS. HIV only contains a very small piece of genetic information. There's no way it can do all these elaborate things they say it does.
"A powerful hypothesis has to explain and predict," Bialy continues, growing indignant. "I ask you, what kind of scientist continues to support a hypothesis that fails to explain and fails to predict? We've been willing to turn immunology up-side-down and inside out."
A few years back, if you remember, HIV-positive pregnant women were urged to abort their children, 100 percent of whom would certainly be born with AIDS, it was claimed, and would die soon after birth. In fact, of all infants born to HIV-positive mothers, all are indeed born with HIV-antibodies, but within 15 to 18 months a full two-thirds seroconvert to HIV-negative. The explanation given for this is that the infants aren't showing their own antibodies yet, but rather the antibodies of the mother, which they have inherited. If a child born to an HIV-positive mother can expel HIV from its system, isn't it tenable to say that HIV antibody is a far cry from AIDS itself? But when asked if this phenomenon could be applicable to adults, a physician specializing in children with AIDS at New York Hospital said that adults have never been known to seroconvert.
Root-Bernstein, having scoured the literature, disagrees. He says he has found three dozen cases, at least, of people who have gone from HIV-positive to HIV-negative. In addition, there are cases of people who have received transfusions of HIV-positive blood and yet have themselves never developed antibodies to HIV.
To compound the confusion, even the more accurate test for HIV antibodies, the Western blot, produces a cross reaction in people with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Lupus. In other words, people with antibodies to these diseases can test positive for HIV even if they've never come into contact with the virus. Malaria is another disease that sometimes crossreacts with HIV. Could this possibly account for the staggering number of HIV-positive cases in certain regions of Africa?
Perhaps the most important question for people faced with a positive HIV-antibody test is what their chances are staying healthy versus getting sick. Early on, it was stated that the latency period, which varies depending upon whom you ask, has grown considerably, a phenomenon that Duesberg calls "moving the goalpost", that a person might live for 30 years with HIV and not get sick.
There isn't enough of a healthy detachment among the public, the media, and the HIV theory with all its implications, to make room for a rational debate on this issue. When AIDS was taken on by the media and by AIDS organizations, it was endowed instantaneously with a set of political, social, and moral implications, and an extraordinary righteousness set in, a fervor so sure of itself that it refused to tolerate any questions.
Upon examination, some of the terms of "AIDS-speak" appear to deliberately obscure the facts. Calling HIV "the AIDS virus" implies, for example, that there is no doubt that HIV causes AIDS. "The AIDS epidemic" implies that AIDS is spreading at an uncontrollable rate, though not all agree: Some statisticians assert that AIDS in the United States and in Europe has actually peaked and is now on the decline. The number of new AIDS cases grows slowly each year, a fact not widely trumpeted by the media or any of the country's 16,000 AIDS organizations.
Would it be overly cynical to propose that we have on our hands an industry that is devoted not so much to the fulfilment of its goal – which would lead to its dissolution – as to its own self-perpetuation? It's well known that many scientists who undertook AIDS research jumped straight from the rotting ship of the cancer industry. Fuelled by billions and accountable to no one, the cancer industry did exactly what the AIDS industry is doing: It stomped out any dissent from the orthodox view, refused to fund research into alternative treatments. Says Duesberg, "I could understand them saying I am so horrible and irresponsible if they were showing any results with their theory, but so far they haven't saved a single life. After ten years there is still no vaccine, and the only therapy is AZT, which is, in my view, making people sicker."
"We're scientists," says Kary Mullis, "Scientists don't believe, they have evidence. We don't believe like Christians believes, our souls are not on the line. I've never seen anything like this.
"And yet," he continues, "I think most of them have done it innocently. They're not evil people, they're just trying to do their job. My reading of most virologists is that they are neurotic. They have been co-opted over a long period of time by a system that is very large, very complex. The system that they have been gaining their information from for a long time has been progressively more and more unreliable. What they call facts is what is published in the journals by them, and that is becoming more and more muddled and more neurotic.
"I have asked a lot of really intelligent people – I get around these days – and I talk to the very best scientists. I've talked to people at the CDC, the NIH, you name it. I generally say, 'Excuse me, but as an independent scientist I often have to write papers on AIDS for the company I'm hired to work for, and the first sentence I write is often, 'HIV is the causative agent in AIDS.' Now, I would like to be able to reference that.'"
"'Reference?' they ask."
"And I say, 'Yes, you know, a reference. Would you mind writing down for me the references that you think, if I read them, I would agree with that statement. I mean, I don't want it to be my idea.'"
"I have never gotten a straight answer to that question from any virologist. They say 'Yes, yes, of course. As soon as I get back to my office I'll have that for you.' And I call them back, and they don't have it. There is no such body of knowledge. The thing has been contrived from newspaper reports, word of mouth, agreement in the back rooms of the virology labs – whatever they do when all ten thousand of them get together in Europe and have their big HIV meeting. It doesn't derive from anything that could be called scientific tradition. The only goddamn person that ever sent me anything back was a virologist from this company called Diagnostic Products. And do you know what he sent me? He sent me the attack that Robin Weiss made on Duesberg in Nature! All that article said was 'Peter Duesberg is a fool. We don't need to look at the virus. We don't need to look at the facts, at the spread of AIDS, nothing.' I couldn't believe it." (Robin Weiss, incidentally, holds the English patent on HIV test kits.)
It seems hard to believe. Virtually every scientist working in the field of AIDS believes that HIV is the cause, and yet nobody can cite a single reference from a body of scientific data that leads them to conclude that that is true? Several scientists over the years have remarked that although it hasn't been proven that HIV is the cause, the correlation between HIV and AIDS is so strong that this is sufficient proof. Such a correlation might indeed suggest the need for research into the relationship, but what about ten years later, when the hypothesis has failed to stand up to the most basic questions?
The HIV apologia goes like this: Just because we can't see it killing cells, doesn't mean it's not killing cells. It is. But it's a lenti-virus, a slow virus. It may take years for it to wreak its havoc, but it gets there. It gets there, they say, as they arbitrarily increase the latency period for HIV from two to three years to anywhere from 15 to 30 years. Moving the goalpost.
Duesberg retorts with the typical irreverence: "There are no slow retroviruses, only slow retrovirologists." Duesberg has remained incredulous, wondering what has gotten into his colleagues, improving like this with the most fundamental scientific concepts as if their project were some abstract creation. As a scientist, you don't mold your theory to fit your assumption; you assume nothing, and let the facts fall where they may. Eventually, you may have a theory. And once you do, your duty as a scientist is to throw it right into the lion's den of scientific scrutiny. Peer review. If it's correct, it will prevail; if not, it deserves to disintegrate.
The phone never stops ringing in Peter Duesberg's lab these days. He shuffles about in his white lab coat greeting a German film crew, stopping to help a graduate student understand some material, fielding phone calls. His assistant, Jane Byrd, looks exhausted. The phone rings and she stares at it. "Did I tell you Barbara Walter's office is interested in this?" she asks with a faint smile. "Even they're starting to catch on."
"What was once a drip is now becoming a deluge. People are fed up with fraud, and they're determined to get to the bottom of this. It's like being in the middle of a hurricane."
The phone rings again.