Document States HIV Is the Cause of AIDS; Ends Debate

By Nicholas Regush 5 July 2000

A Declaration has been signed this week by 5,000 HIV believers, a veritable Who's Who of HIV scientists from all over the word. It's position: HIV is the undisputed cause of AIDS. The document, the signpost of a bold new type of science that calls controversial issues to a vote, really tells it like it is. Finally. Okay?

This HIV believer document suggests no other form of scientific thinking on AIDS is or will be valid. Anyone disagreeing wholly or in part with the Declaration published this week in the journal, Nature, just days before the international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa, is a lowly HIV dissident, denier, revisionist, or worse. Shame, shame on them.

No More Debate

The signees believe enough time has been spent debating the cause of AIDS; to deny that HIV causes AIDS at this point will only help to stifle appropriate tactics to fight the epidemic. The Declaration is meant to silence any further questioning. The big scientific guns of AIDS science have spoken as a block.

Sure, there will be some yowling and yelping from some of the more vociferous HIV deniers, those that say HIV is not at all or only partly responsible for AIDS, in the crowd at Durban. Some of these scientists who have dared to wonder aloud about whether HIV really tells the full story of AIDS will probably have deeply pained and defeated expressions on their faces.

Can They Be Rehabilitated?

Some will even try to rehabilitate themselves by attending one drug company-sponsored HIV lecture after another, hoping that they too, after being saturated with HIV belief, will be officially welcomed into the flock with brassy bugle blasts followed by mesmerizing dance and hallucinogenic chants of "I'm a believer."

Of course, one only hopes that the HIV believers don't let their celebrations get too nasty and confrontational. But you never know what might happen, given the way the mainstream medical press, comprised almost entirely of HIV believers, has been egging things on by ridiculing the HIV deniers. Looking back years from now, we'll note this period as the watershed for "believer journalism," a blend of self-importance and unabashed fawning subservience to the prevailing scientific iconography. Almost no probing coverage has been given to questions raised about the scientific merits of the HIV theory.

Blame Peter Duesberg

Believer journalists love to trash Peter Duesberg, a University of California molecular biologist and long-time questioner of the HIV hypothesis. Duesberg is in Durban as a member of a special panel convened by President Thabo Mbeki to investigate factors that may play a role in AIDS in South Africa. Mbeki has been trashed for questioning whether HIV science is sufficiently sound and accurate to warrant using anti-viral drugs in South Africa that are commonly used in the United States and Europe. Mbeki has questioned whether it is appropriate to impose American and European tactics to fight AIDS in a nation plagued by extreme poverty and a wide array of infectious diseases.

The HIV believers claim South Africa and other African nations are ablaze with HIV and AIDS and that a major assault on the virus is required to prevent a new "Black Plague."

Environmental Not Viral

Duesberg has long argued that AIDS behaves more like a steady environmental disease, likely involving chemical and lifestyle exposures, rather than the type of exponential bursts expected of an infectious disease. He and other scientists in this camp maintain that the quality of HIV testing in Africa is suspect, if done at all before an "AIDS" diagnosis, and that much of what passes for AIDS on this poverty-strained continent is really a collection of old diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria and other parasitic infections.

Duesberg continues to argue that there is much too little HIV in humans at any time to cause disease and that HIV is a harmless "passenger" virus, incapable of causing any harm, except perhaps for brief flu-like symptoms upon infection. HIV believers concede that they have been unable to agree on how HIV actually destroys the immune system and have proposed a broad series of explanations of how the virus can indirectly kill off T cells known as CD4s, key components of the body's system to fight disease. HIV believers also say that wherever you find AIDS, you find signs of HIV. Duesberg says so what? HIV may be only a marker for illness, not the cause of it.

Well, Dr. Duesberg, you're obviously a crank. The Durban Declaration's power in numbers rules. Independent thinking is dead. And HIV is spreading so fast in Africa that there is no time to test much of what you've been yammering about for years. The Declaration has finally put you in your place. And Mbeki is apparently an African fool for wasting time on the likes of you and your colleagues.

Will They Come After Me?

As for me, the Declaration has me groveling in mortification. Well, maybe that's being too tough on myself. You see, I had the audacity to write a book called, The Virus Within. My journalistic approach in the book separated me from the Duesberg view of AIDS. In fact, many HIV deniers have trashed my book, even calling me a traitor to Duesberg's cause. They are, I suppose, "the Duesberg believers." And some HIV believers have trashed my book because I supposedly support Duesberg's theories. It's apparently either-or on the AIDS battleground.

The Virus Within makes a case for the importance of a herpes virus named HHV-6 in many chronic diseases. The unfolding science on the virus, published in major science journals, suggests it can play a major role in (not cause) a variety of chronic illnesses, including AIDS. But let's just dump any pursuit of that alternative notion because the Durban Declaration didn't endorse it. AIDS is not complex. It's simple. It's HIV, stupid.

Subversive E-mail?

An e-mail sent to me proposes that HIV really doesn't cause AIDS, but that it acts more as a catalyst for a rather complicated sequence of environmental and genetic events that can lead to cellular change and AIDS. That's the working hypothesis of Howard Urnovitz, a California microbiologist who works for a biotechnology company but whose views are independent of his work for the firm. But shouldn't I be afraid to read these rather dazzling ideas? So big deal if the emergent science of genomic — the study of our genes, already advanced by the decoding of our genetic blueprint — may have plenty to say about how our immune systems can be destroyed — or self-destruct with help from our very own genes.

And let's face it, the virologists who rule the choir of AIDS science are not likely to give up the territory to the freshly curious gene specialists without a good fight. There is too much turf , status and research money to protect.

And here I was actually thinking of spending more of my time looking further into the potential role of HHV-6, as well as genes and their damage or possible rearrangements in chronic illness, including AIDS.

Thank you, Durban.

Nicholas Regush produces medical features for ABCNEWS. In his weekly column, published Thursdays, he looks at medical trouble spots, heralds innovative achievements and analyzes health trends that may greatly influence our lives. His latest book is The Virus Within.