Earliest AIDS, Part 6

TRKeske trkeske at aol.com
Sun Mar 29 00:22:46 EST 1998

Earliest AIDS, Part 6

This is to give a few more skeptical comments about the supposed
AIDS virus in a 1959 blood sample from a man in Kinshasa, the
capital of Congo, in central Africa.


You might be assuming that this was a man who died of some
mysterious disease that could not be diagnosed.  Many of the
news articles left this to the imagination.

In fact, even Dr. Ho has admitted that it is not known for sure
if the man was even sick.  No records were kept of the
man's name, and no records of what became of him [1].

The blood samples were not taken as part of a study of
infectious diseases.  They were taken to study a hereditary
blood disorder, namely sickle cell anemia.


Ho and his colleagues admitted that the virus sample had
"degraded", and they were isolating only four small fragments
of two viral genes.

I was curious how long blood samples could be kept, and
still allow for accurate analysis.  I decided to check how long
blood could be preserved for purposes of transfusion. 

I realize that the requirements are not identical for the 
different purposes.  However, it still gives something
of a sanity check, since the same basic issue of degradation
is involved whether it is a question of suitability for
transfusion, or for forensic investigation and
courtroom use, or for general research.

With special techniques, platelets can now be stored
for 5 to 7 days.  Whole blood and red cells, with new
preservatives, can be stored for 5 weeks.
Plasma must be frozen below 0 degrees Fahrenheit (a difficulty
in Africa), and even then has a shelf live of 1 year [2]

Remember that the Ho's sample had been in a freezer for nearly
40 years.  To say that is was "degraded" must be putting it

Ho used a technique called "polymerase chain reaction", or
PCR.  This is the same technology that was used by the
prosecution in the O.J. Simpson trial.  Concerns about its
suitability for forensic purposes was one of the factors that
probably led to the acquittal.   The acquittal itself may have
been a miscarriage of justice, but that fact should not
necessarily bias the evaluation of PCR.  The National
Research Council (NCR) issued a report severely 
criticizing the use of PCR in such DNA testing [3].

Apparently, one of the criticisms is that PCR is
so extraordinarily sensitive, able to detect just a few
molecules of human DNA, that it also has an
exceptional sensitivity to possible contamination.


Contamination in the earlier 1959 case of the Manchester
sailor was hardly so subtle as to involve just a few stray

The Congo man is at least the third such attempt to pin the
origins of AIDS in 1959.  One of the other 1959 claims
came from Robert Gallo, himself.   This is interesting
particularly in the context that Gallo was also investigated
on the charge that he deliberately contaminated samples
in order to hamper his competition.

The 1959 claims have not yet held up, but researchers
keep trying.  I suspect that there is a particular fondness
for 1959, as opposed to 1960, because it creates an 
illusion of being an entire decade earlier- a bit like
advertising something as "$19.99" instead of $20.

The suspicion that someone is eager to sell us something,
is part of the suspicion that unscrupulous individuals
might contaminate a sample in order to make the sale.


Why would someone want to sell us something?

Perhaps the answer is in another telltale remark made
by Dr. Ho: that "the virus might have been spread by
contaminated needles used in a mass vaccination campaign".

Dr. Ho and the media are both perfectly aware that the 
issue in the minds of many is not merely "contaminated
needles".  The question is whether the vaccine ITSELF
was contaminated with virus.  If we are seeking credibility,
then why are we so obviously skirting the real issue?

The very admission that "contaminated needles" may have
spread AIDS in Africa is in fact a significant retreat.  For a
long time, the official line has been that the vaccine programs
in Africa had nothing whatsoever to do with AIDS, no
possibility worth considering.  There would not be this
backpeddling, if it were not clear that the evidence is so
overwhelming, that a strategic concession is necessary
in order to preserve the appearance of honesty.

Strategic concessions, however, are merely another dance
step in a game, the goal of which is still to deny the
more embarrassing and disturbing possibilities.


The same news article [1] said that "Many scientists think that
the virus spread thru people eating infected monkey meat."

As I read this, I feel that I am justifiably puzzled.  I recall
watching a documentary where a man was eating a hot
dog, to assure us that you can't get AIDS from eating
anything with HIV virus.  I recall news articles explaining
that HIV is fragile and would be destroyed by the acids
of the stomach.

And of course, if eating infected monkey meat caused
AIDS, then why would oral sex not be equally dangerous?

And of course, if eating infected monkey meat could cause
AIDS, then why is it so preposterous to think that vaccines
manufactured using infected monkey tissues might also have
been a problem?

The things that we are told do not add up, and do not
always have the ring of honesty.  Questions such as why
oral sex is not dangerous, if infected monkey meat is
dangerous, demand an explanation.  The first challenge
for the gay community and the public in general is to
wake up to the fact that we are getting contradictory
claims, the details of which could have substantial
implications for our lives.

Tom Keske
Boston, Mass

[1] AIDS virus is traced to mid-century Africa, Huntly Collins,
     and "Sample traces earliest HIV case to 1959", Reuters

[2] http://www.larcbs.redcross.org.au/processing.htm

[3] http://www.eur.promega.com/geneticidentity/symposia/

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