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HIV/AIDS: After 50 Years, How Close are We to a Cure?

By Michael Radcliff
Contributing Writer
Part I of a three-part series

( The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2010, that 1,142,714 people had been diagnosed with AIDS in America since the beginning of the epidemic. That is more than the COMBINED TOTAL of every soldier lost in battle, in EVERY war the United States has ever fought, since the forming of this nation. As viewed from a global perspective, the World Health Organization states that in 2010, over 34 million individuals were currently living with HIV/AIDS. More than one half were now women, and nearly 10 percent were children. In 2010, nearly two million people died of AIDS, while nearly three million were newly infected with this deadly disease. Since AIDS was officially recognized in 1981 as a disease modality, nearly 30 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.

“When you stop and think,” explained Dr. Cecile Fox, a pathologist with the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, “that over the next 30 years, over a hundred million people will have died of HIV/AIDS prematurely, it will be one of the greatest human tragedies of all time.”

Over the course of the next three weeks, The Louisiana Weekly will be examining the origin of this plague of the 21st century; its infectious process; statistics and populations at risk; the social stigma or “modern-day” leprosy, a day in the life of an HIV/AIDS survivor; legal rights and ramifications of HIV/AIDS-infected individuals; and current medical treatments, breakthroughs, and an individual who was actually cured of HIV/AIDS.
Where Did AIDS Come From?
While theories abound with regard to its origin, it is generally believed that Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) or Green Monkey virus — a retrovirus that had been commonly found in nearly three dozen species of monkeys, primarily chimpanzees, dating back over 32,000 years, somehow mutated and transferred to humans in Central Africa during the 1950’s.

Two major theories put forth are: (1.) people, primarily Africans, contracted the virus by eating or preparing monkeys infected with SIV and, (2.) polio vaccines of the 1950s. The most oblivious question posed to the first theory is “if people have eaten and prepared monkeys for virtually thousands of years, why only now have we seen a crossover or transference of this virus from monkey to man? The most common response is that it mutated. This theory is the commonly accepted theory of a large number of researchers in the scientific community.
The second theory, however, which has been rejected over and over by the scientific community, has, in spite of numerous attempts to discredit it over the years, gained a degree of credibility and deserves a closer look. In 1992, Tom Curtis, a freelance journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, wrote an article linking the onset of HIV/AIDS to Dr. Hilary Koprowski’s live polio vaccine. Curtis’ hypothesis shook up the scientific community, because it challenged the credibility of one of its most renown scientists, Dr. Hilary Koprowski. Dr. Koprowski is an author or co-author of nearly 900 scientific papers; he is also the co-editor of several journals and a consultant to the World Health Organization, as well as the Pan American Health Organization.

Curtis’ Theory – Did Scientists Accidentally Create HIV/AIDS?
In the 1950s polio was one of the most lethal and debilitating diseases known to man; killing mostly children. Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine against polio using a dead polio virus extracted from monkey organs. Monkeys were used as both experimental guinea pigs and raw material from which to create the polio vaccine. The vaccine was proven generally effective. However, oftentimes there were serious side effects. In spite of its side effects, Dr. Salk was viewed as a national hero. Dr. Hilary Koprowski, a young virologist and recent immigrant to the U.S., in 1950 decided to test his own prototype of a live polio vaccine. A scandal subsequently erupted when it was determined that he was testing his formula on handicapped children, who were wards of the state of New York. On April 23, 1955, 260 children vaccinated with Salk’s vaccine became violently ill and 11 subsequently died. People, parents in particular, began to question the safety of Salk’s vaccine and began to refuse to have their children inoculated. A subsequent investigation determined that some vaccine lots were contaminated. In addition to Koprowski, another scientist, Dr. Albert Sabin, was also developing a vaccine to replace the Salk vaccine. Subsequently, a race between Sabin and Koprowski to deliver a more stable “live” vaccine” ensued. To win the race to a better vaccine, they both needed to test their vaccine on a large non-immunized population sample – something that was no longer available in the United States. Sabin made a secret deal with his native country, Russia, to test his vaccine there, and he was able to vaccinate more than six million Russian citizens. Koprowski chose to extract his sample population from the Congo region of Central Africa. Subse?quent investigation of the Koprow?ski vaccine by his rival Sabin determined that the vaccine was infected with a virus which at that time Sabin designated as Virus X. He informed Koprowski, after which Koprowski dismissed his findings and ended their friendship. Sabin’s vaccine was eventually determined to be more stable and was chosen over Koprowski’s vaccine as the inoculation of choice. In the context of his article, Curtis, the journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, suggested that the African Green monkey was the source of Koprowski’s contaminated vaccine. Since the African Green monkey was not a carrier of the SIV virus, Dr. Koprowski and his colleagues used this error to immediately discredit Mr. Curtis and demanded an immediate apology from Rolling Stone magazine, which they did without delay.

Years later however, Edward Hooper, a British journalist, re-examined Curtis’ theory and went to Africa to follow the path of Koprowski’s vaccine. After more than seven years of research, he suggested that Koprowski had indeed used African chimpanzees as both test subjects and the source of his vaccines. He then published his findings. The chimpanzee is one of the most infected SIV carriers in existence. Dr. Koprowski once again responded, attempting to discredit Hooper by insisting that all of the monkeys he used were in fact imported from either the Philippines or India… emphatically stating that [even though his lab was located in Africa and his test population were Africans] he never used African monkeys. Vintage film footage of Koprowski’s lab, however, supports Hooper’s claims, showing that there were in fact hundreds of chimpanzees used in Koprowski’s lab between 1956 and 1958. Furthermore, noted evolutionary biologist, the late Dr. William Hamilton, would later go on record to support Hooper’s claim, stating that there was a “95 percent probability that Hooper’s theory was in fact correct.”

Yet in spite of all of the collective evidence, the overwhelming majority of the scientific community to date continues to support Koprowski’s defense. Yet these pro-Koprowski members of the scientific community are strangely silent when asked, “Why if HIV/AIDS has existed as far back as some have suggested the 1800’s, only since the 1960’s have we seen an explosion in both the spread of HIV and the corresponding mortality rate?”

The first known case of a human contracting HIV was an African male who died in the Congo of central Africa in 1959, or one year after Koprowski’s trial study. He was confirmed years later as having an HIV infection from his preserved blood samples. None of Sabine’s sample population ever contracted AIDS.

What is a Retrovirus?
HIV is not deadly in itself. Classified as a retrovirus, the function of HIV is to impair the immune system to the point that the body is unable to defend itself from diseases, which can range from something as aggressive as cancer to an otherwise fairly benign infection.
Retroviruses are unique in that they reproduce by copying themselves into DNA. Once this viral pseudo-DNA, or false DNA, enters the body, it is transported to the cell’s nucleus, where it is spliced into the human DNA by an HIV enzyme. It then integrates with the host’s normal DNA to form an HIV DNA, or provirus. This provirus may lie dormant within a cell for a long time, but when the cell becomes activated, it treats HIV genes in much the same way as human genes. First it converts them into messenger RNA (using human enzymes). Then the messenger RNA is transported outside the nucleus, and then acts as a blueprint for producing new HIV proteins and enzymes. These new corrupt copies then coat themselves with a protein, and leave the cell to infect other cells and thus the replication process begins all over again. In this manner the virus quickly spreads through the human body. Retroviruses become a permanent part of the genetic material of an infected cell, and in the case of the HIV retrovirus, the cell is eventually destroyed. The cells most targeted are T-cells. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that is of key importance to the immune system and is at the basis of which the body acquires its immunity. It designs the body’s immune response to specific disease pathogens. T-cells are like soldiers who search out and destroy foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. As a typical response to an infection, T-cells begin to multiply in response to this invasion. However, these cells also become the target of HIV. Viral pseudo-DNA replaces the host’s normal DNA, normal T-cells soon dwindle in number, are eventually destroyed, and replaced by HIV DNA-driven cells. At this point, the infected person has arrived at the late stage of HIV infection, or AIDS. Because retroviruses tend to mutate quickly, they become resistant to anti-viral drugs fairly rapidly. It is primarily as result of the ability of HIV to mutate so rapidly that scientists have thus far been unable to develop a safe, effective vaccine.

HIV can only replicate itself inside human cells. It cannot grow or reproduce on its own. In order to thrive, it must reproduce itself by infecting the cells of a living organism. Yet, while HIV leads to lethal consequences within the framework of the human body, the virus is quite vulnerable. HIV can only survive at a temperature of 98.6 degrees or a normal human body temperature. Outside of the body and its 98.6 degree temperature, the HIV virus will die within two to three seconds. Washing one’s hands with ordinary soap and water can actually render the HIV retrovirus inactive; and physical barriers such as, condoms, rubber gloves, and facial masks can effectively prevent the spread of HIV.
The following answers and/or guidelines for the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS were developed and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

• How is HIV/AIDS passed from one person to another?
HIV can be detected in several fluids and tissue of a person living with HIV. It is important to understand, however, that finding a small amount of HIV in a body fluid or tissue does not mean that HIV is transmitted by that body fluid or tissue. Only specific fluids (blood, semen, vaginal secretions, and breast milk) from an HIV-infected person can transmit HIV. These specific fluids must come in contact with a mucous membrane or damaged tissue or be directly injected into the blood-stream (from a needle or syringe) for transmission to possibly occur.
In the United States, HIV is most commonly transmitted through specific sexual behaviors (anal or vaginal sex) or sharing needles with an infected person. It is less common for HIV to be transmitted through oral sex or for an HIV-infected woman to pass the virus to her baby before or during childbirth or after birth through breastfeeding or by pre-chewing food for her infant. In the United States, it is also possible to acquire HIV through exposure to infected blood, transfusions of infected blood, blood products, or organ transplantation, though this risk is extremely remote due to rigorous testing of the U.S. blood supply and donated organs.”

• Is there a correlation to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases?
Again, according to the CDC, “Yes. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person’s risk of becoming infected with HIV, whether the STD causes open sores or breaks in the skin (e.g., syphilis, herpes, chancroid) or does not cause breaks in the skin (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea). If the STD infection causes irritation of the skin, breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even when the STD causes no breaks or open sores, the infection can stimulate an immune response in the genital area that can make HIV transmission more likely.

In addition, if an HIV-infected person is also infected with another STD, that person is three to five times more likely than other HIV-infected persons to transmit HIV through sexual contact.

Not having (abstaining from) sexual intercourse is the most effective way to avoid all STDs, including HIV. For those who choose to be sexually active, the following HIV prevention activities are highly effective:
• Engaging in behaviors that do not involve vaginal or anal intercourse or oral sex
• Having sex with only one uninfected partner
• Using latex condoms every time you have sex.
• Can I get HIV from getting a tattoo or through body piercing?
• A risk of HIV transmission does exist if instruments contaminated with blood are either not sterilized or disinfected or are used inappropriately between clients. The CDC recommends that single-use instruments intended to penetrate the skin be used once, then disposed of. Reusable instruments or devices that penetrate the skin and/or contact a client’s blood should be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized between clients. Personal service workers who do tattooing or body piercing should be educated about how HIV is transmitted and take precautions to prevent transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections in their settings. If you are considering getting a tattoo or having your body pierced, ask staff at the establishment what procedures they use to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections, such as the hepatitis B virus. You also may call the local health department to find out what sterilization procedures are in place in the local area for these types of establishments.

• Can HIV be transmitted by kissing?
It depends on the type of kissing. There is no risk from closed-mouth kissing. There are extremely rare cases of HIV being transmitted via deep “French” kissing but in each case, infected blood was ex?changed due to bleeding gums or sores in the mouth. Because of this remote risk, it is recommended that individuals who are HIV-infected avoid deep, open-mouth “French” kissing with a non-infected partner, as there is a potential risk of transferring infected blood. Summary: There is no risk of transmission closed-mouth kissing. There is a remote risk from deep, open-mouth kissing if there are sores or bleeding gums and blood is exchanged. Therefore, persons living with HIV should avoid this behavior with a non-infected partner.

• Can HIV be transmitted by human bite?
It is very rare, but in specific circumstances HIV can be transmitted by a human bite. In 1997, the CDC published findings from a state health department investigation of an incident that suggested blood-to-blood transmission of HIV by a human bite. There have been other rare reports in the medical literature in which HIV appeared to have been transmitted by a human bite. Biting is not a common way of transmitting HIV. In fact, there are numerous reports of bites that did not result in HIV infection. Severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood were reported in each of the instances where transmission was documented or suspected. Bites that do not involve broken skin have no risk for HIV transmission, as intact skin acts as a barrier to HIV transmission. Summary: There is no risk from a bite where the skin is not broken. There is a remote risk of transmission by human bite. All documented cases where transmission did occur included severe trauma with extensive tissue damage and the presence of blood.
• Can HIV be transmitted by being scratched?

No. There is no risk of transmission from scratching because there is no transfer of body fluids between individuals. Any person with open wounds should have them treated as soon as possible.

• Can HIV be transmitted by being spit on by an HIV-infected person?
No. In some persons living with HIV, the virus has been detected in saliva, but in extremely low quantities. Contact with saliva alone has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV, and there is no documented case of transmission from an HIV-infected person spitting on another person.

• Can I get HIV from casual contact (shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, drinking from the same glass, or the sneezing and coughing of an infected person)?
No. HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings. HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body.
Although contact with blood and other body substances can occur in households, transmission of HIV is rare in this setting. A small number of transmission cases have been reported in which a person became infected with HIV as a result of contact with blood or other body secretions from an HIV-infected person in the household. Persons living with HIV and persons providing home care for those living with HIV should be fully educated and trained regarding appropriate infection-control procedures.

• Can I get HIV from mosquitoes?
No. From the start of the HIV epidemic, there has been concern about HIV transmission from biting and bloodsucking insects, such as mosquitoes. However, studies conducted by the CDC and elsewhere have shown no evidence of HIV transmission from mosquitoes or any other insects–even in areas where there are many cases of AIDS and large populations of mosquitoes. Lack of such outbreaks, despite intense efforts to detect them, supports the conclusion that HIV is not transmitted by insects. The results of experiments and observations of insect biting behavior indicate that when an insect bites a person, it does not inject its own or a previously bitten person’s or animal’s blood into the next person bitten. Rather, it injects saliva, which acts as a lubricant so the insect can feed efficiently. Diseases such as yellow fever and malaria are transmitted through the saliva of specific species of mosquitoes. However, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect and, unlike organisms that are transmitted via insect bites, HIV does not reproduce (and does not survive) in insects. Thus, even if the virus enters a mosquito or another insect, the insect does not become infected and cannot transmit HIV to the next human it bites. There also is no reason to fear that a mosquito or other insect could transmit HIV from one person to another through HIV-infected blood left on its mouth parts. Several reasons help explain why this is so. First, infected people do not have constantly high levels of HIV in their blood streams. Second, insect mouth parts retain only very small amounts of blood on their surfaces. Finally, scientists who study insects have determined that biting insects normally do not travel from one person to the next immediately after ingesting blood. Rather, they fly to a resting place to digest the blood meal.

• Can I get HIV while playing sports?
There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted during participation in sports. The very low risk of transmission during sports participation would involve sports with direct body contact in which bleeding might be expected to occur. If someone is bleeding, their participation in the sport should be interrupted until the wound stops bleeding and is both antiseptically cleaned and securely bandaged. There is no risk of HIV transmission through sports activities where bleeding does not occur.
• Has HIV been transmitted from body fluids placed in restaurant food?

No incident of food being contaminated with HIV-infected blood or semen has been reported to the CDC. Furthermore, the CDC has received no reports of HIV infection resulting from eating food, including condiments. HIV does not live long outside the body. Even if small amounts of HIV-infected blood or semen was consumed, exposure to the air, heat from cooking, and stomach acid would destroy the virus. Therefore, there is no risk of contracting HIV from eating food.

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