-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human
For more than twenty years, Americans have been taught that HIV is the cause of AIDS, that AIDS is invariably fatal, that HIV and AIDS are sexually transmitted, and that there is a tremendous pandemic of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. A multi-billion dollar industry and a global civic movement have been based on these beliefs – yet they remain unproven, even dubious. Considerable evidence indicates that AIDS actually represents different disease processes, at least some of which are not necessarily fatal, that HIV is not the sole cause of AIDS, that neither HIV nor AIDS is sexually transmitted in any significant degree, and that the phenomenon called “AIDS” in Africa may have little to do either with HIV or immune deficiency.
One of the problems with the HIV theory (which asserts that HIV is the only cause of AIDS) has always been that there is no known mechanism by which the virus can cause immune deficiency. After several years of fruitless searching for this mechanism, the U.S. government “solved” the problem by announcing that the mechanism had been “discovered”. What had been “discovered”, however, was merely what had been known all along – the ordinary means by which any virus kills cells (runaway virus production crowds out the cell’s normal processes). HIV does kill T-cells (white blood cells which are critical to the body’s immune response) in this way; however (as was also known all along), it simply does not kill enough of them to make a difference. The virus has great difficulty even entering T-cells, and is found in only a small fraction of them, even in advanced AIDS patients. HIV can be cultured in vitro in cultures of human T-cells without ever harming them!
While the official “truth” is still being taught to the public, the search for an actual mechanism goes on. Several theories have been proposed, for instance that HIV somehow triggers a migration of T-cells from the blood to the lymph glands, or that it interferes with T-cell reproduction, among others. None of these mechanisms has so far been demonstrated, despite decades of research.
It has been standard practice for more than a hundred years in medical research to insist that before a pathogen may be definitely assumed to be the cause of a disease, it must satisfy Koch’s postulates. These are the four postulates:
- The putative disease organism must be found in all persons (or animals) with the disease, but not in healthy persons.
- It should be possible to isolate and culture the organism from any diseased person.
- Injecting this culture into a disease-free person should produce the disease.
- The disease organism should be re-isolated from this person.
HIV has not satisfied these postulates; around 5% of AIDS cases do not involve HIV (an annoying fact which the Center for Disease Control evaded in 1989 by simply renaming them), while around 15% of HIV infected persons, while receiving no treatment against the virus, never get AIDS (a fact which the CDC dealt with in 1993 by re-defining AIDS to include healthy persons). HIV cannot be cultured in isolation because, like any virus, it needs a host cell to reproduce. The injection test cannot be performed on humans; no one is likely to volunteer for it. (Normally animals are used, but viruses are often harmful only to a narrow range of host species). A very few persons have been accidentally injected by needlesticks, but of course none of these were from a pure virus culture – dirty needles could be contaminated with almost anything. HIV has been shown to be harmful to some primates, but does not cause AIDS in them – and it is harmless to some other primates.
Obviously, it is not very reasonable to expect HIV to satisfy Koch’s postulates, which were invented before the discovery of viruses and are not really applicable to viral disease. The postulates also do not allow for long latency periods, which are known to occur in diseases other than AIDS. Another issue is that AIDS, which is properly defined as a syndrome, has no distinctive set of symptoms, so that its diagnosis is somewhat arbitrary – it is almost inevitable that some people will fit the symptoms of AIDS without having HIV.
Skeptics of the HIV theory have often pointed out that HIV does not satisfy Koch’s postulates. Government officials could easily counter this by showing that it is irrelevant, and citing other evidence that HIV causes AIDS, but instead they have chosen merely to announce frequently, forcefully – and falsely – that HIV has satisfied Koch’s postulates. One reason for their doing so may be that the evidence linking HIV to AIDS is not entirely convincing.
Most of the evidence that HIV causes AIDS revolves around correlations or chronological associations between HIV infection and AIDS symptoms. Correlation, however, does not prove causation; skeptics have argued that HIV infection and AIDS are both attributable to other factors, especially the abuse of intravenous or inhaled recreational drugs. Also, part of the correlation undoubtedly arises from the fact that HIV-negative persons are less likely to be monitored for rare diseases or tested for T-cell levels, while HIV-positive persons are usually affected by toxic anti-retroviral therapy and subject to high levels of stress. Chronological observations are also suspect, for similar reasons. The fact that some people eventually got a rare opportunistic disease, many years after being infected with HIV, does not prove that HIV was the cause.
There is, on the other hand, ample clinical evidence indicating that HIV can be harmful to the immune system in at least some people (especially children). AIDS skeptics (including one of the discoverers of HIV, Peter Duesberg) generally claim that HIV is a harmless “passenger” virus – a belief that is untenable in the face of the evidence. “Harmful” is not, however, the same thing as “lethal”. There has never been any good reason to regard HIV infection, in itself, as being necessarily fatal.
So how did it come to be so regarded? The answer is that HIV was prematurely identified with AIDS, a poorly understood syndrome that was never adequately researched. In the early years of AIDS, it was associated exclusively with homosexuals, and later with intravenous drug abusers and hemophiliacs. The homosexual victims were almost entirely highly promiscuous individuals who were frequently exposed to sexually transmitted diseases; many of them made excessive use of antibiotics as a form of prophylaxis – and antibiotics tend to suppress the body’s immune system. Nearly all of these men were also regular users of “poppers”, amyl or butyl nitrite used as an inhalant by some male homosexuals. Nitrites are highly toxic and damage the immune system. The drugs and diseases characteristic of intravenous drug abusers – such as heroin and hepatitis – are also immunosuppressive. Hemophiliacs are exposed to a multitude of diseases from the blood supply, which was at the time very poorly monitored, and tend to have weak immune systems as a consequence of their illness. It is no great surprise that some members of these risk groups experienced deterioration and failure of the immune system – especially those infected with yet another immunity-degrading virus, HIV. But for political reasons – because the first risk group identified was homosexuals – “lifestyle” factors were not considered; blaming the syndrome on promiscuity and drug abuse was considered homophobic, and the assumption was made from the beginning that a single infectious agent was responsible.
In these early groups of AIDS patients, death was surely a great likelihood – the victims were very unhealthy and vulnerable to begin with. Those few who recovered were later reclassified as not having AIDS – how could they have it, when AIDS was “known” to be incurable? No one knows for sure how many of these patients actually had HIV; the virus was unknown at the time. Possibly most of them had HIV, but definitely not all. In the first two studies of HIV – on the basis of which the government announced that the cause of AIDS had been discovered – fewer than half of the AIDS patients involved tested positive for HIV exposure!
A few years after the discovery of HIV, drugs began to be introduced for its “treatment”. These were substances that could kill retroviruses, but were so toxic that they would never have been authorized if not for the general public hysteria and the assumption that all of the AIDS patients would soon die anyway. The first of these drugs to be approved, AZT (which had been rejected years before as a chemotherapy agent because of its terrible side effects), was entirely capable of killing a healthy person who took it regularly for years. AIDS patients, unhealthy to begin with, did just that. Many of them were so adversely affected that they were unable to continue the drug, but some (about one in three) showed a temporary remission of symptoms – possibly due to the fact that the drug killed off various concurrent infections from which the patients were suffering, as well as temporarily suppressing HIV activity. In any case, the benefits were only short term, and all of the patients died. While some people have lived with HIV for decades, no one has ever survived high-dose AZT therapy for more than five years.
Based on the short-term remission effect and the belief that anyone who developed AIDS was doomed, the manufacturer of AIDS sought and received permission to sell AZT as a prophylactic against AIDS. Hundreds of thousands of otherwise healthy HIV-positive persons were induced to take 1200 milligrams of AZT every day, hoping that this would delay the “inevitable” onset of AIDS. It did not, and the death rate from “AIDS” soared. Most of these people were still in one of the original risk categories, and many of them probably had other serious infections as well (such as hepatitis C), but they did not have AIDS, and in the absence of AZT treatment it is possible that some of them would have survived and had normal life spans. There has never been any proof that HIV alone, in the absence other health problems, is lethal.
Part of the politics of AIDS was the insistence that there would be a heterosexually spread epidemic. This never occurred, but huge numbers of people outside the risk groups were tested, and a few were found to be infected. These unfortunates, though otherwise healthy, took AZT and subsequently died.
In 1993, the standard dosage of AZT was reduced from 1200 to 600 milligrams. The death rate from AIDS soon tapered off; when AZT was partly replaced by the less harmful protease inhibitors, the death rate plummeted. The fact that modern “AIDS” patients have a much better prognosis than those of twenty or more years ago has been touted as proof that HIV causes AIDS and that the anti-retroviral drugs are effective against AIDS, but this ignores a crucial circumstance: the AIDS patients of the early years had little resemblance to those of today. The former were already desperately ill when diagnosed; nearly all were chronic drug abusers, and most if not all suffered from other complicating factors, such as repeated hepatitis and syphilis infections, malnutrition, and overuse of antibiotics. Modern patients, by contrast, are more likely to have contracted HIV from an isolated instance of drug injection, and to be reasonably healthy when they are diagnosed. Medical treatment in general, including that of specific AIDS diseases such as Pneumocystic Carinii Pneumonia, has also advanced. It is hardly surprising that modern patients live longer.
Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, there have thus been two principal groups of AIDS victims: those who suffered critical immune failure due to various (often multiple) factors, and those who suffered long-term health degradation primarily due to treatment with toxic drugs, but HIV has likely been a contributing factor for most members of both groups. “AIDS” in Africa is a wholly different phenomenon, which may have little to do with HIV or immune failure.
Non-African AIDS is very different from African AIDS in several ways. The relationship between HIV and AIDS in Africa is unknown, because virtually none of the victims have ever been tested for HIV exposure. Estimates of the prevalence of HIV infection in Africa are largely speculative; testing is inadequate and random samples of the population are impossible. Demographic data are poor; many sub-Saharan countries do not even keep records of births and deaths. The situation is further complicated by the fact that foreign assistance often depends on the perceived AIDS threat; governments have a powerful incentive to exaggerate the number of AIDS cases and deaths that they report. The diagnostic criteria used in Africa are quite different from those used elsewhere; instead of testing for HIV exposure and low T-cell counts, only the presence of chronic symptoms is considered, and these are different symptoms from those associated with AIDS in the rest of the world. In Africa, a chronic cough combined with diarrhea is diagnosed as AIDS – even though tuberculosis and dysentery are quite common throughout most of the sub-Saharan region. In America, the same patient would undergo medical testing and might be treated and cured without AIDS ever having been suspected. In Africa, the patient is doomed.
It is interesting to note that when an African is found (usually by some Western-sponsored test) to be HIV-positive, he or she typically sickens and dies within a year. In America, a person newly diagnosed with HIV can expect an average of about ten years before experiencing any symptoms – with or without treatment. In the West, such exotic diseases as Pneumocystic Carinii Pneumonia, toxoplasmosis, or disseminated Mycobacterium Avium Complex are considered characteristic of AIDS; in Africa, common diseases such as tuberculosis and dysentery are AIDS indicators. Nearly all African AIDS victims experience rapid weight loss, but this symptom occurs in a minority of Western patients. The lack of drug treatment in Africa cannot explain these differences – Westerners typically experience a long incubation period with or without treatment, and the drugs are more likely to cause weight loss than to prevent it.
The most significant difference between African and non-African AIDS is, however, its distribution; AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is distributed equally between men and women and does not appear to have a strong preference for drug users. This is a plausible distribution for a sexually transmitted or otherwise contagious disease, but AIDS outside Africa does not fit this distribution at all. The distribution of HIV outside Africa is totally inconsistent with a sexual mode of transmission – after decades of warnings of an impending heterosexual pandemic, HIV outside Africa remains confined mostly to homosexuals and intravenous drug injectors, with male victims outnumbering females by three or four to one (and far more in many countries). This is not due to more use of condoms in the West, or less promiscuity; other sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and chlamydia, were (and still are) spreading rapidly at the same time that new HIV infections were declining. These sexually transmitted diseases, unlike HIV, affect males and females in equal proportion.
In fact, there is very little reason to believe that HIV can be transmitted by normal sex, although it may be slightly transmissible by rough anal sex. While official statistics claim that many people are heterosexually infected, these claims are dubious in the extreme. They are based only on what the patients themselves report; actual investigation of even the most cursory nature is virtually unknown. Patients generally avoid admitting to behavior that might be disapproved or illegal, preferring to admit to some more acceptable cause. It is instructive that the proportion of reportedly homosexually transmitted HIV is very small among countries where homosexuals are strongly despised, while the proportion of transmission by intravenous drug use drops to zero in countries where such is severely punished. In some countries, all of the reported adult AIDS cases in 1997 were listed as “heterosexual” in origin – yet they are virtually all male! In addition, the wives of hemophiliacs (most hemophiliacs contracted HIV during the Eighties) have no higher rate of HIV infection than the general population, even though many of their husbands were infected before they were even known to be at risk. It is reasonable to believe that all or most of the alleged cases of heterosexually transmitted HIV were actually transmitted by other means.
The “success” of programs directed against sexual transmission in controlling the spread of HIV has been cited as evidence that sexual transmission occurs, but these “successes” do not bear close examination. Senegal, for instance, is often touted as such a case; yet the rates of HIV prevalence in Senegal have always been comparable to those of its neighbors, both before and after the start of the control program. The same is true of Thailand, another oft-cited case. In Uganda, a very sharp decline did occur – but it began two years before the initiation of the condom-promoting program “So Strong So Smooth”. South Africa’s President Mbeki was much vilified for refusing to take the official AIDS theory at face value, and was blamed for South Africa’s high rate of HIV infection – yet that rate has never differed much from that of South Africa’s neighbors.
African AIDS appears to be a different disease from non-African AIDS; it is spread by different means, has a different course and symptoms, and may be unrelated to HIV. Some have excused the differences as being due to a different strain of the virus (HIV2), but most of sub-Saharan Africa, including the most severely affected areas, harbor the same virus strain (HIV1) as the rest of the world. It is more likely that HIV is being erroneously blamed for the consequences of widespread malnutrition, malaria, tuberculosis, syphilis, and other problems. The swift demise of Africans who are diagnosed with AIDS may be attributed to psychosomatic and social causes: already ill, they are often vigorously ostracized, even by their own families, and the expectation of certain death is stressful and can have a dramatic effect on health, as illustrated by the efficacy of voodoo magic against those who believe in it. African “AIDS” victims are also sometimes denied medical care, on the assumption that others can better benefit from it.
It may be that HIV is a complicating disease factor that has been there along, undetected. HIV is at least ten times as common among persons of Bantu as non-Bantu ancestry, both globally and in the United States; except for Southeast Asia, the global distribution of HIV follows the distribution of Bantu peoples surprisingly closely. Retroviruses generally can only be transmitted by blood-to-blood contact; lacking such modern innovations as hypodermics and organ transplants, they can only be transmitted from mother to child. If HIV is less deadly than heretofore believed, it may have existed in Bantu populations for many generations, and the supposed recent increase in its prevalence in Africa may reflect better testing, different statistical methods, competition among African countries for foreign assistance, or even false-positive test results caused by some other disease that is spreading through Africa (tuberculosis, flu, herpes, hepatitis, and malaria are among the illnesses that can sometimes cause false positive tests for HIV exposure).
Official theories for why HIV spreads so much more quickly and indiscriminately in Africa than elsewhere revolve around the poverty and generally poor health of Africans, which is supposed to make infection easier, but non-African countries of equal poverty have experienced no HIV epidemic even remotely comparable. Whatever is happening in Africa that we call “AIDS” cannot be explained by the conventional HIV theory.
Many alternatives have been suggested to the HIV theory of AIDS; one of the best-known theories blames “poppers” (nitrite inhalants), but this is only plausible for the earliest group of AIDS patients. A second theory, generally coexisting with the first, is that AZT itself is sufficient to cause AIDS. This theory is also weak, however; studies have failed to reveal any substantial difference in long-term survival, either better or worse, associated with AZT treatment for those already ill. Patients who have stopped taking the drug have on average fared no better than those who continued. Drug abuse in general, especially of injective drugs, is a likely cause of AIDS, but cannot explain all cases. Other possible causes include multiple chronic infections, tertiary syphilis (which may be undetectable in some patients), hepatitis C, or some other infectious agent. Yet the most likely explanation is that there is no single explanation; AIDS is a syndrome, and has manifested quite differently in different times, places, and persons. HIV does not appear to be the sole cause of AIDS, though it may well be the principal factor in most present cases of non-African AIDS.
Investigation of alternative etiologies of AIDS might prove more fruitful than continued concentration on HIV exclusively. This is especially true for Africa, where “AIDS” is poorly defined, poorly understood, and may have little connection to HIV. Prevention programs have focused on safe sex, which is a complete waste of money – not only is HIV not sexually transmitted, these programs have not impacted the spread of genuine sexually transmitted diseases. By far the best way to prevent the spread of HIV (and certain other diseases such as Hepatitis C) is to provide clean needles to drug abusers, but this has been difficult for political reasons.
Unfortunately, major change in existing policies seems unlikely. The principal medical agency of the U.S. government, the Center for Disease Control, has persistently refused to acknowledge the possible existence of flaws in the conventional theory. AIDS has become intensely politicized, and “fighting AIDS” has acquired the status of a universal symbol for compassion, tolerance, and internationalism. Skeptics are attacked not on the basis of evidence or ideas, but on the moral grounds of perceived opposition to this symbol. The conventional theory also has deep economic and academic roots – tens of thousands of jobs and tens of billions of dollars are tied to AIDS research, AIDS relief, AIDS treatment, AIDS advocacy, AIDS drugs, AIDS prevention, and other AIDS industries. It is no great wonder that the status quo resists interference. The last quarter century of Herculean expenditures has failed to defeat AIDS; the next quarter century will fail as well.