NUMBER 11 & 12  



NOV / DEC 1998 

UA-B Med School Prof Reappraises AIDS

by Rob Hodson, MD

My name is Rob Hodson, and I am an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. UA-B is the number-one funded AIDS research center in the country, and is the home of George Shaw, Michael Saag, and other big-name AIDS researchers. (Who can keep up with them all?) They are currently trying to recruit healthy people into their vaccine trial. I donÕt think IÕll be participating.

Before January 1998, my knowledge of AIDS was typical for that of a physician. As an anesthesiologist, the management of AIDS was outside my specialty, so I wasnÕt especially informed or interested in the subject. I knew that HIV caused AIDS, because that was what the textbooks said. I had no reason to think otherwise. I never knew or cared that anybody thought differently. The name Peter Duesberg meant nothing to me.

Then one day I received an anonymous junk e-mail. The e-mail claimed that for $7.95 I would learn something new and controversial about AIDS from a book called, What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong by Christine Maggiore. I thought, what the heck, IÕve got eight bucks laying around, so I ordered it. A week or so later, it arrived. I didn't start reading it immediately, but once I started, I didnÕt stop until I hit the back cover. I was hooked. That is not to say I was convinced immediately, but I knew I was going to seek more information.

I ordered some of the HEAL information packs. After perusing them, I ordered DuesbergÕs Inventing the AIDS Virus. About half way through that I knew my life had changed. I like my current job, and enjoy the specialty of anesthesiology, but these days IÕve really become more interested in AIDS education.

I have a one hour lecture that I have given about five times now, mostly to nurses and once to the anesthesia department. It has been very well received, and has definitely converted some people. I am scheduled to give it four more times, including once to medical students as part of a lunch time lecture series. This could get me in trouble, or at least noticed.

I tell the story of AIDS, from virus hunting to buffalo humps, to anyone who will listen. Reaction varies. Nurses are generally receptive, as are other anesthesiologists. Surgeons tend to be very dogmatic, and internists as well. IÕve had some luck with a few of the ob-gyn residents. Certainly IÕve taken some abuse for expressing my position.

As a physician, I feel betrayed and used by the scientific community, the government, pharmaceutical companies, and the FDA. I used to think that that medical research wasnÕt politically directed and financially motivated, and that pharmaceutical companies wouldnÕt compromise patient well-being for a profit. I even used to think that the FDA was there to protect the American public. Now I know better.

Since rejecting the notion of infectious AIDS, I've taken special notice of one of its apparent consequences: the increase of latex allergies among health care workers. Although only about 0.8% of the general US population shows some signs of latex sensitization, the figure is about 10% for health care workers (Brown RH; Anesthesiology 89: 292-9.1998). The principal reason: frequent use of latex gloves.

Symptoms of latex allergy can be local or general, and can vary from mild to deadly. The most dreaded manifestation is anaphylactic shock, which has a very high mortality if not quickly and aggressively treated. Some health care workers have to avoid latex altogether, even if it means giving up surgery or delivering babies.When these health care workers need surgery themselves, they are at risk for anaphylactic shock and death during the procedure.

Despite the legitimate reasons for wearing latex gloves, they were not very popular prior to the infectious AIDS hysteria that began in the early 1980s. Before that, many health care workers would routinely draw blood or start IV lines without gloves, and not be too concerned if some blood from a patient got on their hands. This is despite the fact that hepatitis B was a major threat to health care workers.

It took AIDS for latex gloves to become Òrequired equipmentÓ for health care workers. During the early AIDS years, demand for gloves increased so rapidly that there were often latex glove shortages. These days, latex glove use has become so routine that sometimes people forget to remove them. They are worn while pushing stretchers, writing in the chart, and even talking on the telephone. Anesthesia personnel can be seen wearing gloves for the entire duration of a several hour case, even though they might touch the patient only once or twice the entire time. This change in behavior has come about largely due to the fear of infectious AIDS. I find this fear to be unjustified, even if AIDS were caused by HIV.

As of 1996, the CDC reported a cumulative total of just 52 health care workers over 15 years whose HIV serostatus switched from negative to positive after occupational exposure (CDC Year-End Report, 1998).

In the past, I did my part to contribute to the AIDS fiasco. I unquestioningly believed what I heard, and treated HIV-positive patients differently. Now I want to do my part to correct the problem. Wandering the halls of UA-B with a HEAL Òno red ribbonsÓbutton on my name tag is at least a start.

Hodson graduated from Tulane University Medical School in 1992, and before that from the University of Texas at Austin in 1988 with a BS in psychology. You can contact him at: The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Department of Anesthesiology, 619 South 19th Street, Birmingham, Alabama, 35233 <robert.hodson@ccc.uab.edu>.