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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

HIV/AIDS – A Response to Elisa: Part I

[A gremlin – this is out of sequence. Word tells me that it was posted on 17/08/2011; but it seems to have evaporated!]

First of all, thanks to those of you who have commented, whether by email or on the blog. I love you!

Elisa, you mentioned H Pylori, about which, by chance, I blogged on Monday, 15th August.

The HIV theory of AIDS

In the late seventies and early eighties a ghastly phenomenon emerged. Young men were presenting with a new combination of symptoms, including: weight-loss, diarrhoea, dementia, various types of pneumonia and (in some cases) Kaposi's sarcoma, a disease which had hitherto been observed mostly in middle-aged men. All these conditions were well-known to medical science. They nearly all had well understood causes. What was new was their combination in young men. These young men were all practising homosexuals. Many died.

A name was given to the syndrome (ie a collection of symptoms): GRIDS (Gay Related Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

The sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies – the repeal of laws against homosexuality and changes in attitude – resulted in an explosion of promiscuous activity among gay men. Certain bars and bathhouses were hot beds for this activity. Thousands of young men were having sex with more people than had almost ever occurred in history. To get this much sex you would once have had to be a Roman Emperor. Michael Callen wrote about it – I think his book was called We Know Who We Are. Some people claimed to have had hundreds of partners in a year. Many people indulged in practices which elementary hygiene would have warned against. Many of these people suffered repeated infections of gonorrhoea, syphilis and herpes. Those who did were repeatedly prescribed antibiotics. Many indulged in recreational drugs. One drug was almost exclusively used by gays, amyl nitrite (poppers), extensively advertised in the gay press.

Concerned doctors suggested that GRIDS was the result of this lifestyle – a theory which had a lot going for it. Repeated infections damage your immune system. Antibiotics damage your immune system. Recreational drugs damage your immune system. Semen is immunosuppressive – otherwise sperm would not survive inside another human being, as they need to do to make babies. A combination of all four is not going to do your immune system a whole lot of good.

The press loved AIDS! Sex and Death were very marketable as a story. Throw in celebrity victims: Rock Hudson, Rudolph Nureyev and Freddie Mercury. The press couldn't get enough of it. Lots of scientists turned their attention to it – some because they were genuinely eager to prevent suffering and save lives, some because they saw an opportunity to further their careers (nothing ignoble about that per se).

One such scientist was Robert Gallo, a super ambitious virologist with a high profile in the scientific community. It has been said that to a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail. When a virologist turns his attention to a problem, he will inevitably apply his expertise to that problem. He may say eventually, "Nah! Nothing to do with viruses, this!"

Virologists had been heroes in the defeat of polio and of smallpox. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. When President Nixon declared a War on Cancer in the seventies, virologists naturally wondered if they could make a contribution here. They had credibility and prestige and government was prepared to throw a whole lot of money in their direction. Great days to be a virologist – at least to begin with. As time went by, however, it became apparent that hardly any (if any) cancers were caused by viruses. This is not to say that in future a connection will not be established – just that the promise of early success was not realised. So, we had all these, admittedly clever, people, armed with sophisticated techniques and amazing technology and large budgets.

Clever, (perhaps ruthlessly) ambitious Robert Gallo put his resources to work. He suspected that a fruitful approach might be to investigate an entity discovered by a French virologist called Luc Montaignier, named by him (LM) LAV. Gallo claimed to have discovered this entity himself. He called it HIV. Subsequently a political, face-saving compromise was agreed between the French and US governments that credit should be shared. LAV/HIV was said to be a retrovirus. But no retrovirus had ever been shown to be the cause any disease whatsoever. All the same, if you've got a hammer..., if you know a thing or two about viruses.

Gallo acquired samples from GRIDS patients and subjected them to investigation. However, he never isolated HIV from these samples or anywhere else. He said that he found antibodies to HIV in samples from some patients but nowhere near all.

There are a number of problems with this:

  1. Without having isolated HIV how can you be sure that the antibodies are HIV specific? You can't? You have to fudge it by saying that the antibodies react to certain proteins which (you also say) are in HIV.
  2. Antibodies are created to fight off (ie kill) invading pathogens. I will never get smallpox because my blood contains antibodies which would kill off (in a trice) any smallpox virus that invaded my body. I have a scar on my left arm as a memento of the vaccination.
  3. He couldn't find even the antibodies in all the GRIDS patients.

Medical researchers have a standard for building a case against agent A as the cause of disease B. It was established by the great German Dr Koch. You can google Koch's postulates; but they go like this:

  1. The microorganism (A) must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease (B), but should not be found in healthy organisms.
  2. The microorganism (A) must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.
  3. The cultured microorganism (A) should cause disease (B) when introduced into a healthy organism.
  4. The microorganism (A) must be re-isolated from the inoculated, diseased experimental host and identified as being identical to the original specific causative agent.

The HIV theory of AIDS fails all these.

Some, but not all, researches have revised these postulates. Is this perhaps because they are more wedded to the HIV theory of AIDS than to good Science?

Breaking off now. I shall return.

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