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Are HIV and AIDS really linked?
December 1, 2001 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Are HIV and AIDS really linked? There is a large (and growing) movement that questions many of the traditionally accepted notions of HIV/AIDS. Led by respected researchers, groups such as VirusMyth and Aids Reality Check fight what they see as a "misinformation campaign" that has misled the public about the realities of AIDS and HIV. (Even to the point of supporting South African president Thabo Mbeki's refusal to declare AIDS a national emergency, despite the ravaging effects of the disease in that country, regardless of how it's caused.)
posted by arco (20 comments total)

Okay, I'm definitely out of my league scientifically, but it seems that most of these guys just want debate on the cause of AIDS. Now, whether an African president should refuse to acknowledge AIDS as a killer because of these guys is a whole other ball of wax.

Can someone who knows what they're talking about evaluate their claims?
posted by solistrato at 8:54 AM on December 1, 2001

Are HIV and AIDS really linked? The answer is a resounding YES.

If Duesberg and his fellow "dissenters", as they like to call themselves, are serious, then let one of them volunteer to be injected intravenously with purified HIV-1. Lest they claim that the resulting disease (AIDS) was caused by the preparation being less than pure, I will be injected with a control preparation made from an identical cell line which does not express HIV-1. Obdisclosure: I am an HIV-1 researcher, natch, and my boss is a signatory to the Durban Declaration.
posted by sennoma at 9:07 AM on December 1, 2001

Thanks, sennoma. This is exactly what I was looking for here.

(Oh, and I apologize profusely if anyone takes this post as a statement of support of these groups and a lack of sensitivity for those affected by AIDS. This was not my intention.)
posted by arco at 9:13 AM on December 1, 2001

After a quick surf, here are a couple more.

re: the MeTa thread: I think these nutbags (who claim HIV-1 doesn't cause AIDS) are worth a link, just to get them out in the open.
posted by sennoma at 9:26 AM on December 1, 2001

I'm not a scientist; from what I've read I'm convinced that HIV causes AIDS. However, I don't think any claims to the contrary should be dismissed out of hand. As in all rational pursuits, the cure for bad science is more and better science. I suggest that we would know less about the disease had researchers not been spurred to deeper exploration into HIV by their critics.
posted by Ty Webb at 9:36 AM on December 1, 2001

I have a question: When did the HIV/AIDS link first get established? Please note that I am not doubting that the link has been proven. I'm just asking when.

You see, I've read this bit by Kary Mullis, and the thing that troubles me is his description of how he searched in vain for the original research that established the HIV/AIDS link. I find that part rather troubling. And I note that all of the references listed in the Durban Declaration are from the mid to late 1990s. It seems that researchers only took the time to establish the link after people like Duesburg started asking questions.

Once again, I must stress that I am not subscribing to the idea that HIV doesn't cause AIDS. I just want to know how and when that first came to be accepted as true within the scientific community.
posted by Potsy at 9:43 AM on December 1, 2001

Ty, the claims to the contrary are not being dismissed "out of hand" -- they're being dismissed with an amazing amount of scientific data to show that they should be dismissed. There's a big difference.

(A while back on Q, I posted a compilation of the resources that I found most useful in this debate.)
posted by delfuego at 9:51 AM on December 1, 2001

Delfuego, obviously I wasn't referring to you, or others who deal with the question calmly and with evidence (the material in your link was good, thanks). I maintain that challenges to conventional wisdom should be encouraged, and should be met with more and better evidence.

Does anyone think that the cause of AIDS research has been harmed by challenges to HIV = AIDS?
posted by Ty Webb at 10:00 AM on December 1, 2001

I think that people have been harmed by the challenges to HIV=AIDS. In South Africa, children are being raped at an increasing rate (a 9-month-old was gang-raped, for example) because of the belief that having sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. This is happening because of the South African government's (and specifically, Mbeki's) long-standing questioning that HIV caused AIDS, long after the evidence was pretty clear. Duesberg's arguements were used to prop up Mbeki's denial.
posted by Alwin at 10:17 AM on December 1, 2001

For a dramatization of how the HIV virus was discovered see the movie: "And the Band Played On"

The melodrama as a little over-the-top but the basic facts are there. The US NIH and the French equivalent jointly announced the discovery and the initial scientific paper was published in 'Science' sometime in the mid 80's I believe. The PI on the US side was later discredited, not because his results regarding HIV were erroneous (they were in agreement with the french), but because his lab claimed credit for aspects of the work it did not do.
posted by plaino at 10:20 AM on December 1, 2001

Although the NIH's Robert Gallo was found to have committed scientific misconduct NIH/Pasteur Institute dustup over the exact nature of HIV and the credit for its discovery, the finding was overturned on appeal. I have no idea how much of a delay in research (particularly in developing a blood test for AIDS) this squabble introduced.
posted by snarkout at 10:26 AM on December 1, 2001

Ty Webb: Does anyone think that the cause of AIDS research has been harmed by challenges to HIV = AIDS?

The harm is not done to the research, which thrives on challenges, but to people denied treatment by someone like Mbeki, whose real agenda (IMO) was avoiding the enormous cost of AIDS treatment. (preview: what Alwin said.)

Potsy: IIRC the virus was first isolated in about 1983, and the link with AIDS was first postulated in about 1984. There is a chronology of the relevant research here: R.C. Gallo, L. Montagnier, Nature 326:435-6, 1987 (not available online). Some of the links in the NIAID factsheet I linked above go back to the early 80s, and some of the studies published later are reporting long-term investigations that started in the 80s. That said, I don't doubt that the first challenges to the idea that HIV-1 causes AIDS resulted in lots of fact-checking, which is of course a good thing; the problem is the continued denial of the causal link in the face of overwhelming evidence.
posted by sennoma at 10:45 AM on December 1, 2001

sennoma, thanks, that's what I was looking for. The references in that NIAID factsheet are not listed by date, making it difficult to determine the chonology. Also, a lot of the papers cited appear to either talk about the syndrome or the virus separately, but not the link between them. Gallo's work seems to be the first such paper.
posted by Potsy at 11:07 AM on December 1, 2001

to those considering Kary Mullis in this thread:

he was discussed in a prior thread, and i had discovered that his research and his numbers were highly suspect. i do not consider him a trustworthy source on the subject of AIDS, in spite of his nobel prize. i don't want to retype the whole argument, but my previous comment (plus links to my research) stands in the previous thread on AIDS and the Catholic Church.
posted by moz at 2:19 PM on December 1, 2001

My problem with this movement isn't that they dispute a widely accepted idea that HIV causes AIDS. Dispute in science is a good thing, and attacking a theory with conflicting evidence is what science is all about. However, the groups that are putting forward these views such as Act Up SF (who are in no way associated with the nation Act Up organization) are trying to turn a scientific argument into a political one. They accuse the drug industry, the government and various anti-homosexual forces of being involved in a giant conspiracy to cover us the facts. Now where I might be able to buy the idea that a conspiracy to assassinate JFK only involved a few dozen key people who kept it all a secret, I can't believe that thousands of scientists and physicians are lying to people dying of this disease. The entire thing reeks of people manipulating others who are feeling frightened and powerless, and that's just inexcusable.
posted by BenNewman at 3:43 PM on December 1, 2001

in regards to Koch's postulate on this page, the fulfillments listed fail to take into account flaws in the HIV test, including the many non-HIV factors that would trigger a positive result. also, the document claims that HIV has been found in "virtually" every AIDS patient via use of the PCR microscope and other such technique. but does that sound truly practical? isolating just one HIV virus in one person is difficult and time-consuming enough, let alone in "virtually" every patient.
posted by mcsweetie at 4:20 PM on December 1, 2001

UNAIDS weighs in with this report, titled "HIV, AIDS and the Reappearance of an Old Myth." They present arguments (no references given, however) against four myths:




posted by ferris at 4:36 PM on December 1, 2001

McSweetie: A common diagnostic tool for those treating HIV+ patients is viral load testing aka: HIV1 PCR RNA that reports the level of HIV viral activity.

While the ultra-sensitive version considers <50copies/ml (some lab standards calculate to <25) "non-detectable", this non-detectable level usually occurs only in those HIV+ individuals who are taking anti-retrovirals.

Considering this test is done on a fairly uniform and regular basis by those treating HIV, I think that "virtually" all those have been shown to have the virus present.
posted by sillygit at 8:05 PM on December 1, 2001

Years ago I saw a study that indicated that HTLV-III wasn't present in all AIDS cases, but Human Herpes (I think IV) was. Their initial assessment was that the herpes was a cause of AIDS, and that HTLV-III was a side result.

I don't know the difference with HIV, but is this the basis of the "HIV is NOT AIDS cause" crowd?
posted by dwivian at 10:11 AM on December 3, 2001

dwivian: confusingly, HIV-1 was initially called HTLV(Human T-Lymphotrophic Virus)-III and later renamed to HIV-1. HTLV's (Types I and II) are, like HIV-1, retroviruses, meaning that they have similar "lifecycles" and are commonly found in co-infections with HIV-1. You still see the name "HTLV-III" around but as far as I can determine it's an incorrect usage: no such name is listed in the index virum.

If the study you saw was old enough to be calling HIV-1 HTLV-III, then the reason that it was not found in all AIDS cases is probably that the detection methods were not good enough. We've come a long way since then, baby - see sillygit's post above on the sensitivity of PCR testing.

In any case, I doubt that this is related to the HIV-does-not-cause-AIDS nonsense.
posted by sennoma at 3:40 AM on December 4, 2001

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