Duesberg & Rasnick Reviewed

Epidemiology professor Gordon Stewart, MD, reviews the latest Genetica treatise by UC-Berkeley scientists Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick

Buried deeply within the secretive and well-guarded dogma that AIDS is a plague caused by a lethal virus HIV lies a time-bomb of potentially explosive contrary information.

The chief guardians of this dogma are the selected, sometimes self-selected, high priests and scribes of medical science whose prestige discourages or threatens, and usually defeats, any challenge from professional quarters. However, the academic publisher Kluwer stands as a bold exception: once again its peer-reviewed journal Genetica has published a challenge to the HIV-causes-AIDS behemoth. Its 1998 issue features a new treatise by two scientific heavy-weights at the headquarters of AIDS dissent at UC-California, Berkeley: Peter Duesberg and David Rasnick. Their recent paper, "The AIDS Dilemma: Drug Diseases Blamed on a Passenger Virus," expands the arguments Duesberg began to use in 1987, challenging the view that HIV is a lethal virus capable of causing AIDS. In the 38 pages of this article, he and Rasnick have compressed evidence from many sources into a highly readable, amply referenced alternative viewpoint which should be listed as required reading for high priests, scribes, and professionals, and as helpful reading for patients, their contacts, families, and indeed any other interested people.


Duesberg's AIDS heresy began in 1987, when Cancer Research Editor Peter Mage invited him to contribute an article. Mage wanted Duesberg, as a recognized expert, to evaluate the preceding decade's data -- much of it generated by Duesberg himself -- popularly interpreted as demonstrating a causal role for retroviruses in cancer and leukemia. HIV had by this time become the most prominent of the retroviruses, due to the postulate that held it as the cause of AIDS, including its associated neoplasms,. Duesberg examined this postulate in the paper which Mage published as "Retroviruses as Carcinogens and Pathogens: Expectations and Reality" (1). In it, Duesberg concluded that neither the virological nor epidemiological evidence could justify the HIV-AIDS model. Doubts about AIDS causation by any single agent had been expressed before by others (2-4). But no doubts had issued from anyone with Duesberg's acknowledged status among the inner circle of retrovirologists, all others of whom had instantly and uncritically embraced the HIV-AIDS model as their scientific passport to fame, funds, and fortune. Duesberg's peers within this elite club greeted his contradiction first with flat silence, then with orchestrated disapproval. This concerted effort culminated in a continuing attempt to demolish him and anyone who fails to applaud their condemnation. Duesberg's survival through this ordeal is matched in courage only by those who have endured the threat and suffering of AIDS itself.

The new Genetica paper testifies to his impressive ability -- shared by Rasnick -- to deconstruct the orthodox HIV-AIDS model and advocate his alternative drug-AIDS model articulately and with rigor. Although I was among the first to doubt a unique causative role for HIV (3), and then to defend Duesberg (5), I have never agreed entirely with him or Rasnick. In some cases I find their evidence over-argued and their conclusions debatable. But, by comparison with my objections to the HIV-AIDS dogma and the attitude and behavior of those who support it, my differences with Duesberg and Rasnick constitute mere matters of detail.


Duesberg and Rasnick believe that various drugs entirely replace HIV as main causes of AIDS. They point out (page 92), that the rapidly enlarging catalog of drugs now regarded as recreational represent "the common denominator of AIDS in America and Europe." Certainly some of these drugs, especially nitrite inhalants, immediately damage vitality and slowly damage immunity (7-9). And certainly these drugs, when used by homosexual men engaging in anal intercourse frequently and with many partners, fuel the downtown express to full-blown AIDS. There are also intermediate levels of damage in which other drugs, either by their direct toxic effect, by causing infections when given in contaminated injections, or just by releasing reckless behavior, contribute to symptomatologies registrable as AIDS, especially in female partners of men with AIDS or at risk of AIDS. In the late 1960s, when drug abuse became rampant in the USA, clinicians noticed in users the opportunistic infections and loss of appetite, weight, and energy which officially constitute AIDS-defining conditions under the classifications codified by the US's Centers for Disease Control and the UN's World Health Organization.


Among gay men in the US and Europe, the increase in drug use overlapped an increase in both frequency of sexual intercourse and number of partners. This expanded agenda of the pleasure principle produced many health consequences for its adherents. They experienced an enormous increase not only in all the traditional sexually-transmissible infections, but also in amoebic and bacillary dysenteries, uncontrollable diarrheas, oral, esophageal, and intestinal thrush, skin diseases, and pulmonary, rectal, and post-traumatic infections. This led to self-medication with antibiotics and cross-infections with resistant organisms. First-hand accounts by insiders such as Jad Adams, Michael Callen, and Randy Schilts explicitly detail the elements and consequences of this novel lifestyle (9-11). As Duesberg and Rasnick note, drugs played an essential role in this scenario, including the deterioration of health later called AIDS. But the two researchers fail to acknowledge the equally essential, health-destroying role played by the multiplicity of concomitant, highly transmissible infections and some of the drugs used to treat them (8).


Having helped investigate the transmission pattern of AIDS since 1983, I find it impossible to overlook these overloads of transmissible viral, bacterial, protozoal, and fungal infections as main contributors to the pathogenesis of registrable AIDS. I do not for a moment deny the equal and sometimes greater role of psycho-active and other drugs. But the drug factors cited by Duesberg and Rasnick do not currently predominate as they did among gays who continue to develop AIDS. Meanwhile, groups in which these drug factors currently dominate, such as in the heterosexual "rave" scene, have failed to produce many AIDS cases. In several countries, In the USA and Europe, AIDS is decreasing while drug-based raves are exploding.

In saying this, I perhaps commit the academic fault of agreeing while disagreeing with the authors. But the issue of causation is far from academic because it affects how we detect, treat, and control the spread of AIDS. Irrespective of other doubts about HIV and the specificity of sero-testing (12) -- and this is a book in itself (in need of publication) -- it is impossible to deny that patients with incipient or established AIDS suffer and die mainly because they develop unmanageable infections, some of which are highly transmissible to their partners. I agree with the authors that HIV is extremely difficult to transmit or, for that matter, to isolate, cultivate, and recognize. This is why HIV seropositives remain well until they develop the AIDS-defining infections which spread among persons who engage in risk, i.e. infection-prone behavior and life-style. HIV, with its low or zero infectivity to close attendants and even to those who suffer needle-stick injuries, might well be, as Duesberg and Rasnick conclude, a mere passenger

While needles can transmit serious illness by transmitting pathogenic viruses (such as Hep B, HSV, EBV, CMV) and bacteria, full-blown AIDS requires additional extraordinary efforts and circumstances, like bath-house romps with many men harboring these and even more intractable microbes, such as Pneumocystis and Varicella-zoster, which officials rightly list as AIDS-defining.
I contend that such behavior can produce signs of AIDS in both sexes even without the drugs cited by Duesberg and Rasnick. And where they also cite anti-HIV pharmaceuticals, such as AZT, as causes of AIDS, their critique fails to account for the many narcotics- and poverty-free individuals who develop AIDS even without consuming these pharmaceuticals.


Nor does AIDS always appear where their model would expect it. In the Third World, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, they attribute AIDS to background or outbreaking poverty, malnutrition, and traditional infections like tuberculosis. Certainly their explanation applies to some Third World populations. But huge AIDS-free zones exist in impoverished regions. Duesberg and Rasnick address neither this apparent contradiction, nor reports of AIDS among the developing world's privileged strata.

The local situation often defeats investigation because evidence about intimate activities may be withheld or distorted. Certainly, just as in industrial countries, life style plays a major factor in the onset and distribution of AIDS. But there is a great deal of doubt about the underlying reasons for this.

If these matters where reliable information is difficult to obtain and impossible to verify are set aside, there is plenty of room for agreement with Duesberg and Rasnick in their misgivings about the reliability of tests for HIV and AIDS, especially in hemophiliacs and their partners, and in children; in the reckless use of AZT; and, in their call for a halt to monstrous and futile expenditures boosted by misleading messages about risks. In deflecting attention, knowledgeably, from the questionable role of HIV to the visible role of recreational drugs in the pathogenesis of AIDS, they are writing what needs to be read and said more widely and more often so that the health authorities who accept the HIV dogma so slavishly will finally learn the scale and danger of their deception .

Gordon Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Public Health at the University of Glasgow, a consultant in epidemiology and preventive medicine, and an RA Director. He has served as a consultant to African and other AIDS programs, the WHO and Britain's national Health Services. He challenged the orthodox explanation of AIDS when, in 1989 and subsequently, he corrected exaggerated predictions of the spread of AIDS in the UK and USA and dismissed the likelihood of AIDS spreading into the general population by sexual intercourse or mother-to-child transmission. He can be reached in care of RA, or at g.stewart@gifford.co.uk .