VOLUME 6, NUMBER 7 REAPPRAISING AIDS                   JULY 1998

The Failure of"New Victories Against HIV"
A rebuttal to Scientific American's report on AIDS

David Rasnick submitted the following letter to the Editor of Scientific American:

Dear Editor,

The special 27-page report entitled "New Victories Against HIV" that appeared in the July, 1998 issue of Scientific American is very misleading on several counts, starting with the title. The question is whether the virus called HIV causes AIDS, as is commonly believed.

The first paragraph of page 81 falsely claims that, "Ten years ago scientists knew that the disease [AIDS] was caused by HIV." I am a scientist and the President of The Group for the Scientific Reappraisal of the HIV Hypothesis of AIDS (The Group for short). I and my colleagues, numbering in the thousands, are unable to identify any documents that show AIDS to be a contagious disease and HIV to be the cause of AIDS. We would appreciate you providing us with the references to such documentation. Below, I draw your attention to additional examples of the numerous, unsupported assertions made in your July 1998 special report.

The section entitled "How HIV Harms," by Bartlett and Moore, begins by stating that "The virus spreads from one person to another usually through sexual intercourse" among other ways. This statement is blatantly false since it takes, on average, over 1,000 sexual contacts with an HIV-positive individual for a person to develop antibodies to HIV (Peterman, 1988; Jacquez, 1994; Padian, 1997). The inefficiency of transmission reflects the absence of infectious virus, and the tiny percentage of even latently infected cells (about 1 per 1,000) in antibody-positive persons (Duesberg, 1989; Duesberg, 1992; Duesberg and Bialy, 1996). From 1985 to 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated a constant level of one million Americans with antibodies to HIV (Curran, 1985; Duesberg, 1992; Duesberg, 1996; Krieger, 1996). That means, on average, 260,000 random sexual contacts would be required for the average American to develop antibodies against HIV.

However, the figures and statistics from the CDC are generally unreliable and contain contradictions, both internally and also with the orthodoxy, of which the CDC is a part. According to the CDC, HIV, the putative cause of AIDS, remained constant in the population during a period when the annual number of new cases of AIDS increased, reached a peak, and declined. In 1996, the estimated number of HIV positive Americans was lowered to 650,000-900,000 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1996). This new figure was taken from a 1996 publication that estimated the number of people with antibodies to HIV in the U.S. up to 1992 (Karon et al., 1996). Surprisingly, this 1992 estimate, which the CDC still uses today (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997), was not based on the results of the many tens of millions of HIV antibody tests performed in the U.S. since 1985. In fact, the 1992 estimate conflicts with the CDC's published results based on the HIV antibody tests. The data from the CDC's National HIV serosurveillance summary based on over 50 million blood samples tested show that the number of Americans with antibodies to HIV was 62,000 in 1985 and had declined steadily to 13,000 by 1993, the last year reported (Centers for Disease Control, 1995). Thus, the CDC continues to use the six-year-old estimate of 650,000-900,000 HIV positive Americans, which was not based on the results of HIV antibody testing, instead of the much lower, five-year-old figure based on the results of tens of millions of antibody tests.

Returning to Scientific American's special report, in the second paragraph of page 85, Bartlett and Moore state that HIV kills CD4 T-cells. In the middle of page 86, they say that, "At the cellular level, scientists also know how HIV invades and destroys CD4 T lymphocytes." No justification is given for these assertions. Such claims have been made previously, most famously in articles by Ho and Wei that appeared in a 1995 issue of Nature (Ho et al., 1995; Wei et al., 1995). But they were immediately criticized on multiple counts in letters to the editor. For instance, referring to the extremely low levels of HIV-infected cells of AIDS patients, the HIV researchers Ascher and his associates wrote to Nature : "The central paradox of HIV pathogenesis remains. It is a murder scene with far more bodies than bullets" (Ascher, 1995). The viral dynamics presented in the Ho and Wei papers continue to be criticized, for instance, in Nature Medicine (Grossman and Herberman, 1997; Gorochov, 1998; Pakker, 1998; Roederer, 1998). According to Roederer, the two papers by Pakker and Gorochov "provide the final nails in the coffin for models of T cell dynamics [including Ho and Wei's] in which a major reason for changes in T cell numbers is the death of HIV-infected cells" (Roederer, 1998).

Moving on to the assertions regarding viral load, the authors state in the middle of page 87 that, "at any stage, viral levels correlate with prognosis." In March 1997, I attended a conference in Southern California on the Chemotherapy of AIDS where David Ho introduced the session he was chairing with the words: "High levels of viremia are not predictive of clinical outcome." Because of this, Ho went on to propose that the so-called viral set point may better correlate with future disease progression. However, according to the NIH's "1998 Guidelines to Physicians for the Use of Antiretroviral Agents in HIV-Infected Adults and Adolescents," the viral set point can only be determined in asymptomatic individuals who are not taking drugs in order to prevent erroneously high viral load results. This requirement puts into doubt the reliability of the viral load test in symptomatic AIDS patients since we don't know what the test is measuring.

Continuing with viral load, John Mellors' in his contribution to the July 1998 special report entitled: "Viral load Tests Provide Valuable Answers" states in the second paragraph of page 90: "From the start, the collective viral population in a patient generates many billions of new HIV particles a day, resulting in destruction of millions of CD4 T lymphocytes." This statement is based on the 1995 Nature papers by Ho and Wei discussed above. To reiterate, there is no documented evidence to support Mellors' statement, and available scientific literature refutes it (Sheppard, 1993; Wolthers et al., 1996; Grossman and Herberman, 1997; Gorochov, 1998; Pakker, 1998; Roederer, 1998). Nevertheless, accepting the validity of the unproved viral load test, Mellors made the portentous statement: "Viral-load measures have therefore replaced assessment of clinical outcome in therapeutic trials." If Mellors is correct, then whether patients live longer or do better when taking experimental drugs compared to drug-free controls is no longer the basis for determining the efficacy and safety of drugs. This is a frightening prospect.

At the top of page 91, Mellors repeats what he said at the March 1997 conference on the Chemotherapy of AIDS: "Although the 'field' results have not matched those of the clinical trials, a 50 percent success rate is still 100 percent better than could be achieved just a few years ago." This is an admission, which Mellors has made before, that mono-therapy with AZT and the other DNA chain terminators had not worked, which he calls "the sins of the past."

A thorough critique of the errors in the July 1998 special report would require a lengthy report in its own right. Therefore, I will end here, hoping that I have presented sufficiently significant examples of factual errors to support my claim that the July 1998 special report is gravely misleading and does a disservice to the general reader. As President of The Group, I submit this letter for publication in Scientific American . In addition, I would be happy to have Scientific American's cooperation in providing a more extensive report from me and some other scientists, critically reviewing where we stand scientifically with HIV/AIDS.

Sincerely, David Rasnick, PhD, President of The Group

Scientific American has yet to make a decision about publishing this letter. RA will inform readers of any feedback from Scientific American.


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