Seeds of Doom - Chapter 2
Story of a controversial theory about the origin of AIDS
Chapter 2: AIDS
SIV / HIV connection
Now let's see if you can work it out: "V" for... virus, "S" for... simian, "I" for... immunodeficiency. Simian immunodeficiency virus. This name distinguishes it from another virus: HIV, human immune deficiency virus.<ref name="ftn16">See (GRMEK, M. D., "Histoire Du Sida : Début Et Origine D'une Pandemie Actuelle.", 1989). About the controversy on the primacy of the discovery between Gallo and Montagnier, see (CREWDSON, J., "Science Fictions : A Scientific Mystery, a Massive Coverup, and the Dark Legacy of Robert Gallo.", 2002). </ref>
Almost every species of African monkey is a carrier of its own particular SIV: chimpanzees, African green monkeys, baboons and sooty mangabeys.<ref name="ftn17">(HAHN, B. H. et al., Science , 2000).</ref> SIV and HIV belong to the same family of viruses and are very similar to each other. But "SIV" is actually not an accurate name for African monkeys, because they don't become ill from it - no immunodeficiency. They have co-existed with SIV for thousands of years. Asian monkeys, on the other hand, are not naturally infected with SIV.<ref name="ftn18">(OHTA, Y. et al., International Journal of Cancer , 1988).</ref> On one occasion sooty mangabey SIV was transmitted to some Asian monkeys in a laboratory.<ref name="ftn19">(HENRICKSON, R. V. et al., Lancet , 1983). It wasn't the first time; other epidemics had been recorded in the past in other colonies. (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 664-7.</ref> They became ill and died in a manner very much resembling AIDS in humans. HIV causes death in humans in practically 100% of cases, which indicates that the human immune system is not accustomed to such a virus. Would it be reasonable to conclude that HIV has been recently acquired from the world of monkeys?<ref name="ftn20">For example (DOOLITTLE, R. F., Nature , 1989).</ref>
But the matter is even more complicated because in humans there are two different types of HIV - predictably, HIV-1 and HIV-2. The first, HIV-1, is responsible for 99% of AIDS cases in the world. The other, HIV-2, is restricted to West Africa.<ref name="ftn21">Identification and isolation of this new human retrovirus was again done by the group of Luc Montagnier. (CLAVEL, F. et al., Science , 1986); (GUYADER, M. et al., Nature , 1987).</ref> It also causes AIDS but it has a longer latency period and seems to be less transmittable.<ref name="ftn22">(KANKI, P. J. et al., Lancet , 1994); (MARLINK, R. et al., Science , 1994). </ref> They are so different from each other that in order to detect them two different tests are necessary. But now here's the interesting part: HIV-2 resembles the sooty mangabey SIV<ref name="ftn23">(CHAKRABARTI, L. et al., Nature , 1987)</ref> - so much so that if you bring one or the other to a laboratory without indicating its origin, they won't be able to tell whether it's simian or human. A similarity to HIV-1 has also been found in chimpanzee SIV, but not as close.<ref name="ftn24">(GILDEN, R. V. et al., Lancet , 1986); (PEETERS, M. et al., AIDS , 1989); (HUET, T. et al., Nature , 1990); (PEETERS, M. et al., AIDS , 1992). For the most recent bibliography on the HIV-1/SIVcpz connection see (SHARP, P. M. et al., Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences , 2001). </ref> Sufficiently close, however, to suggest that HIV-1 was transmitted from monkeys to humans.
The "bushmeat" theory
But how on earth did this virus pass from monkeys to humans if it is practically only transmittable through sexual relations (intercourse) and the use of infected syringes? Come on, what are you thinking about?<ref name="ftn25">The hypothesis of kinky practices was raised many times. Among these, one was based on the description of a sexual rite with monkey blood. See (NOIREAU, F., Lancet , 1987); (KARPAS, A., Nature , 1990); (OWUSU, S. K., Nature , 1991). </ref> There is a simpler explanation. In different regions of Africa they eat monkeys.<ref name="ftn26">(PETERSON, D. et al., "Eating Apes.", 2003)</ref> It's possible that by eating insufficiently cooked meat, or by being bitten by a monkey at the moment of capture, or - even more probable - while butchering the meat, someone could have cut himself and in this way allowed monkey blood to enter into contact with human blood. It's plausible. This is the "bushmeat" theory, accepted by the majority of the scientific community.<ref name="ftn27">See for instance (MARX, P. A. et al., J Virol , 1991) and (HAHN, B. H. et al., Science , 2000).</ref> But it has one weak point: why now? Monkeys have been eaten in Africa since the dawn of creation. Why were there no AIDS epidemics before the 80s? How can we explain the sudden appearance of two different epidemics in the 20th century?
Poliovirus vaccine and the origin of HIV
"Bearing in mind that several thousands of doses of the original Salk vaccine produced in the 1950s were contaminated with SV40, a simian agent, one wonders whether monkey kidney tissue might not be the source of the AIDS virus in man..."<ref name="ftn28">(LECATSAS, G. et al., S Afr Med J , 1989). These and other articles, were signed by Lecatsas and another researcher, Jennifer J. Alexander. Their letter was a comment on an article published some time before on the safety of polio vaccine production. (LYONS, S. F. et al., S Afr Med J , 1988).</ref> A South African virologist, Gerasmos Lecatsas, wrote this in a South African medical journal in 1989. If the monkeys used to produce the vaccines were infected with SIV, it would not have been noticed because they are asymptomatic - they do not show any sign that could indicate they are infected and a test for isolating this type of virus was not developed until 1985. "...while it would be simplistic to assume and even more difficult to prove that polio vaccine is the source of HIV infection in man, it would be equally naïve to ignore the possibility..."
Do you realize what this man is insinuating? It's a frightening hypothesis. He is debating whether the fight against poliomyelitis, one of the greatest conquests of modern medicine, was not the cause of the most tragic medical disaster of the contemporary age. I don't know whether you are aware of the extent of the tragedy. Up to now, AIDS has caused the death of 30 million people.<ref name="ftn29">Data from the UNAIDS (www.unaids.org)</ref> If their coffins were lined up end to end, they would form a band of death around the whole world. 3 million people per year die of AIDS. That's one person every 10 seconds. In certain African countries life expectancy has dropped by 40 years. If nothing is done, a baby born there will have a 70% chance of dying of AIDS before the age of 30.<ref name="ftn30">Data based on Botswana (UNAIDS)</ref> Perhaps the greatest health catastrophe known to humans.<ref name="ftn31">"AIDS is arguably the most serious infectious disease to have affected humankind." (RAMBAUT, A. et al., Nat Rev Genet , 2004) </ref> Now do you think Lecatsas' hypothesis is something to be taken lightly?
Recklessly wild and unscientific speculation?
No. In fact a response to it followed immediately in the same publication. "To suggest that live polio vaccine may carry the potential danger of AIDS because of contamination with simian immunodeficiency viruses (SIV)... is a recklessly wild and unscientific speculation. Studies carried out by ourselves and others have failed to isolate SIV from monkey kidney tissues derived from seropositive monkeys. ... In this context, letters such as that of Lecatsas ... serve only to misinform, confuse and mislead, and do little to help our own and also international efforts to meet the goal of the 41st World Health Assembly, i.e. the global eradication of poliomyelitis..."<ref name="ftn32">(SCHOUB, B. D. et al., S Afr Med J , 1990).</ref>
Question: if it was such an unscientific speculation, why did they carry out tests? As early as 1985, the World Health Organization conducted tests - without advertising it too much - to check for the presence of SIV in vaccines produced from 1970 to the present day.<ref name="ftn33">In 1985 World Health Organisation (WHO) convened two informal meetings of experts to discuss the implications on polio vaccine safety of the discovery of monkey viruses close to HIV. (Anon., WHO Weekly epidemiological record , 1985). They conducted different tests, among which they tested vaccine seed stocks, more than 20 batches of vaccine in Europe and North America, and 250 recipients of vaccine, without finding traces of HIV or SIV. Their work and conclusions were reported only in a brief article in the British Medical Journal. (ZUCKERMAN, A. J., Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) , 1986). See also (HOOPER, E., "The River : A Journey to the Source of Hiv and Aids.", 2000) see pp. 325-6.</ref> They were found to be clean. And what about vaccines before 1970?
There was another test carried out in Japan.<ref name="ftn34">(OHTA, Y. et al., AIDS , 1989).</ref> OHHTTAA! (imitating a martial attack) Joking aside, Ohta was actually the name of a Japanese researcher. In 1989, he took two seropositive monkeys and produced a vaccine using modern production methods. The result was reassuring because SIV was already eliminated in the first passages, thanks in particular to the use of trypsin. So modern polio vaccines are safe. But what about those produced using the earlier techniques? The Japanese article contains a warning: "AGM [African green monkeys] naturally infected with SIV should not be used for preparation of vaccines." Which is as much as to say that, good news, we found no trace of SIV, but, take it from us, it's better to avoid the risk.<ref name="ftn35">Louis Pascal expressed reservations about whether such a test actually could refute the OPV/AIDS theory (PASCAL, L., , 1993). It can be consulted on Prof. Brian Martin's homepage.</ref>
And recklessly wild speculation? - and this is not in a rock mag! If scientists don't ask themselves these questions, who is going to? Lecatsas did not accept the criticism of his suggestion and wrote back in the same issue: "To ignore the overwhelming statistical possibility of cross-species infection via millions upon millions of doses of vaccine over a 40-year period would be naïve. We believe in the free expression and exchange of ideas as a necessary ingredient in scientific advancement. We also believe that sooner or later the question we have raised will have to be addressed and, we hope, answered."<ref name="ftn36">(LECATSAS, G. et al., S Afr Med J , 1990). This hypothesis on HIV origin might have remained little known after its publication in a national medical journal, but achieved much more visibility when a short letter by Lecatsas entitled "Origin of AIDS" was published in "Nature" (LECATSAS, G., Nature , 1991).</ref>
Hypothesis merely theoretical
In any case, we can easily see that Lecatsas' hypothesis is merely theoretical and has little to do with the polio vaccination campaigns. The earliest trace of HIV in a human was found in a serum taken during a genetics study conducted in 1959 in Kinshasa,<ref name="ftn37">(MOTULSKY, A. G. et al., Am J Hum Gen , 1966); (GIBLETT, E. R. et al., Am J Hum Gen , 1966); (NAHMIAS, A. J. et al., Lancet , 1986); (MOTULSKY, A. G., U Wash Med , 1987).</ref> in Central Africa, and diverse other studies indicate that the origin of HIV is localized in the regions of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi<ref name="ftn38">Examples are (FLEMING, A. F., Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy , 1988); (MCCLURE, M. O., New Scientist , 1990).</ref> not in the US where the Salk vaccine was tested, and not in the USSR where the first Sabin vaccine was tested. So the polio vaccine theory as presented by Lecatsas is simply not true, is it? Unless of course there were other vaccinations in Africa before 1959...