INTERVIEW CHARLES THOMAS JR.
Rethinking AIDS May 1993
Interview with molecular biologist and former Harvard and Johns Hopkins
professor Charles A. Thomas, Ph.D.
RETHINKING: If HIV does not cause AIDS, what does?
THOMAS: I think that Duesberg and Root-Bernstein have it right. Anything or
process that destroys the individual's ability to mount an immune response to
adventitious disease such as those listed by the CDC as "AIDS indicator diseases."
This could be the use of street drugs such as cocaine, heroin, amyl nitrite
(poppers), amphetamines, which are known to be immunosuppressive. It could be
malnutrition and lack of essential vitamins. Being the recipient of whole blood or
blood products, such as required by hemophiliacs, inhibits the immune system.
Finally, there is much evidence that repeated and multiple infections are
immunosuppressive. The immune system just gets worn out and can't respond.
RETHINKING: What about AZT?
THOMAS: DNA synthesis and cell division are essential to mount an immune
response. AZT kills replicating cells. AZT in a sense can be a cause of AIDS
diseases. The patient loses hair, and the proliferating intestinal epithelia are
RETHINKING: But AZT kills the HIV...
THOMAS: AZT kills any bit of DNA that tries to replicate. It is a crazy way to
attempt to kill the HIV virus because so few Lymphocytes are carrying a copy of
HIV (1/10,000) and the viral copy is only about 1/100,000 of the size of the host
cell DNA. Besides, where is the evidence that the incorporated virus is doing any
harm at all? Yet Burroughs-Welcome's figures indicate that 200,000 people
world-wide receive AZT every day at the cost of $2,300 per year.
RETHINKING: How do you explain the death of Kimberly Bergalis, who was a
virgin and did not do drugs?
THOMAS: Kimberly Bergalis, according to the general press, was a young lady
who was found to have antibody to HIV; she had become infected at some time in
the past. Whether she displayed other AIDS symptoms, I do not know, but she
was put on AZT. She responded just as described above; the AZT killed her.
RETHINKING: How do you explain Ryan White?
THOMAS: According to accounts in the press, Ryan White was an 18-year-old
hemophiliac who died in April of 1990 of unstoppable internal bleeding which may
have been exacerbated by the AZT he was taking. Not an unusual way for
hemophiliacs to die. To prove that HIV was the cause of his death would require
the comparison of similar hemophiliacs both with and without antibody to HIV.
Notwithstanding, his death proved to be the impetus for the passing of the Ryan
White Comprehensive Research Act in 1990 which is giving more than $550
million to hospitals and clinics around the country.
RETHINKING: Well, what about Magic Johnson, said to be on AZT?
THOMAS: I don't know whether he actually is or not. He is smart enough to know
it is useless, toxic and avoid taking it. My own bet is that Johnson is not taking
AZT; he would never be able to play the basketball he does. However, if he is
taking it, it would not surprise me if he were more robust to its ill effects than
Kimberly or Ryan.
RETHINKING: How did Kimberly Bergalis become infected with HIV?
THOMAS: I don't know, and probably neither does anyone else. Thanks to the
publicity that this case received, everyone thinks that she was infected by her
dentist David Acer, who was HIV+. This led to testing 1,100 of his other past
patients, 4 or 5 of whom proved to have antibody to HIV+. Divide 4.5 by 1100,
and you get 0.4%. Subsequent testing of many thousands o~ patients of other
dentists showed that 0.4% of them were positive. The frequency of HIV+ has been
repeatedly measured in the general population since 1985 at 0.4%. There is no
reason to think she was infected by her dentist.
RETHINKING: How do you explain babies with AIDS?
THOMAS: According to the CDC diskettes as of the end of 1991, there have been
a total of 1,328 babies (age<l) recorded as having AIDS since the beginning of
1981. This is a very small number covering a period of 11 years. It turns out that
1,260 (95%) of these came from "mothers at risk." This category is mainly drug
abusing mothers. Babies born to drug abusing mothers who do not have HIV also
die from the same diseases, but they are not considered AIDS victims.
RETHINKING: How do you explain the transfusion and hemophiliac cases who
are dying from AIDS?
THOMAS: If you focus on the transfusion recipients, those having antibody to HIV
are actually living about as long as those without HIV antibody. More work should
be done on this point (because recipients of multiple transfusions become
immunosuppressed and also are more likely to acquire HIV), but the available
evidence indicates that exposure to HIV does not hasten their deaths. There are
about 11,000 HIV+ hemophiliacs in the U.S. that have been infected for 10 years.
Of these only 1,713 (15.6%) have developed AIDS. The bulk of the remainder will
die natural deaths before they come down with AIDS diseases. Bob Maver has
covered this in the second issue of Rethinking AIDS.
RETHINKING: We have been told that there is a rampant explosion of
heterosexual AIDS among teenagers; how can this be controlled?
THOMAS: Well, actually, an analysis of the CDC data to 6/30/92 shows that there
were only 872 cases of teenage (13-19) AIDS over the past 11 years. The majority
of these are homosexual, IV drug abusers and hemophilia cases. The number of
cases of heterosexual teenage AIDS not involving these other risk factors is only 16
over an 11 year period. Hardly an explosion, and hardly numbers warranting a
"safe sex" campaign involving tens of millions of teenagers.
RETHINKING: What about Africa?
THOMAS: I don't know anything about AIDS in Africa, and can only wonder if
others do. Remember that people are dying all the time in Africa of CDC-approved
AIDS diseases (dysentery, for example) as a result of malnourishment, infections,
etc. Now about 10% of the population (plus/minus 10%) is estimated to have
antibody to HIV. That could be true or it could be a high estimate due to sloppy
testing. Anyhow, if you score HIV+, and die of a CDC-approved disease, you die
of AIDS. That's why the numbers are so high in Africa. One interesting point: while
about 3% of the HIV positive people come down with AIDS each year in the U.S.,
in Africa only a tiny percentage do so. This is because the percentage of HIV+
(10%) is so much larger than in the U.S. (° 4%)
Africa is interesting in another way: the percentage of males and females who are
HIV-positive is the same. AIDS disease affect both sexes at the same rate. In the
U.S., 80% of the AIDS cases are in 20-44 year-olds, 90% of whom are males. It
looks like AIDS disease are being caused in a different way in Africa than in the
U.S. (and Western Europe).
RETHINKING: Don't chimpanzees get AlDS when infected with HIV?
THOMAS: No they don't and that's a problem. About 80 chimps have been tested.
The HIV infects these animals, multiplies, elicits the formation of antibody, and
then disappears, just like in humans. Even after many years not one chimp has
come down with AIDS diseases. This means we have an animal model for HIV,
and it does not seem to cause AIDS. In this respect they are just like the 1,000,000
Americans who have been infected with HIV and who are not coming down with
RETHINKING: Everyone agrees that there is plenty of HIV virus in semen and
that's how it spreads.
THOMAS: Well, actually there's not. The best work done at the Women's and
Brigham Hospital in Boston shows that by the most sensitive PCR and culture
procedures, no virus can be detected in 90% of the semen samples taken from men
with AIDS. This is not surprising. In the HIV-immune individual, HIV is present
only in a tiny minority of white blood cells, and these cells are screened out of the
seminal plasma, just as they are from breast milk and saliva.
RETHINKING: so safe sex is ridiculous?
THOMAS: There is no safe sex. Including gunshot wounds, marital discord,
litigation and economic cost, sex is one of the more dangerous activities. But that is
not what you meant. It is well-established that sex-particularly receptive anal sex-
can transmit a number of venereal diseases which may contribute to the "infectional
overload" mentioned above and immune depression, but it is an extremely
inefficient way to transmit HIV. Sex is no more dangerous today than 20 years ago
- or 1,000 years ago.*