The AIDS Heretics
How reliable is HIV testing? "Terrifyingly unreliable."
Why does everyone believe in it? "The world's greatest example of mass hysteria."
Celia Farber, Nicholas Regush and Charles Ortleb question virtually everything you think you know about AIDS?what it is, what causes it, how to treat it. For their pains they've been vilified by many AIDS activists as liars, fools and the homophobe equivalent of Holocaust revisionists. If AIDS, as many catastrophic diseases do, has developed an entire belief system about it, with its own mainstream orthodoxies and true believers, these three are definitely among the heretics, the apostates.
The first article Celia Farber ever wrote, in a 1987 Spin, was on AIDS. Her questioning of mainstream theory made her "Words From the Front" column a focus of much anger for the next decade. She's now a contributing editor at Gear. Her article "Science Fiction" in the March issue argues that bombing healthy HIV patients with a "drug cocktail" regimen that includes AZT and protease inhibitors?the "Hit hard, hit early" practice that has become widespread since Dr. David Ho proposed it in 1996?is causing heart attacks, strokes, liver failure and other problems. Typically, she says it has prompted outrage from AIDS "ideologues" who are "deeply wired into the pharmaceutical interests"?but it has found favor in some surprising circles as well.
Nicholas Regush is a veteran science writer who produces segments for ABC News and writes a column, "Second Opinion," on abcnews.com. His books include Frontiers of Healing and The Breaking Point: Understanding Your Potential for Violence. As a print reporter in Montreal, "From very early on with AIDS, I began to see that the science was not being followed very carefully. There was a rush to judgment on many fronts, a lot of speculation... I smelled a rat from the very beginning, and kept up with it ever since."
His new book, The Virus Within (Dutton, 261 pages, $24.95), is about Human Herpes Virus-6 (HHV-6), first identified in 1986 by Dr. Robert Gallo (better known for his HIV research). HHV-6 seems to lie dormant in virtually all of us until something triggers it into deadly action. Research is implicating it in a number of immune-related illnesses?including AIDS. The suggestion that it is even a "cofactor" with HIV in causing AIDS?let alone that it is more likely to be involved?has been met with derision.
Charles Ortleb published New York Native from 1980 ("We were the first publication to do a story on AIDS, without realizing it, in 1980, when this weird pneumonia was affecting people") until it folded in 1996?hounded out of business, in part at least, by an ACT UP boycott triggered by his outspoken contrarian views on AIDS. He now writes those views in the safer format of fiction (Iron Peter and The Last Lovers on Earth).
I met with the three of them last week. It was not an accidental grouping: they all know and support one another's work. Regush, for example, credits Ortleb and the Native's "astounding job" of AIDS reporting with educating him early on. ("I was your typical stupid science writer at the time.") Ortleb, seeing what I'd written a few weeks ago about Farber's article, suggested I read Regush's book and agreed to help conduct the interview.
Celia, what's the reaction been to your article?
CF: It's been well-received by people I would call my archenemies, but well-received from a weird angle. Larry Kramer [cofounder of GMHC and ACT UP] has sent it all over the place, saying this is alarming, everybody has to read this, Celia Farber's an asshole but she's right about this, I wish somebody else wrote it, but she's right... Some of the New York treatment activists are like, this is important, this really made us cry?which is the shock of my entire career. This has never happened. The West Coast AIDS establishment has reacted with more typical outrage and horror and "This is irresponsible."
Let's get right down to it: Does HIV cause AIDS?
NR: I seriously doubt it. I've never seen evidence to that effect.
CF: I seriously doubt it too.
Why then do the government, the researchers, the entire AIDS care and treatment system and the media all believe it?
CF: The world's greatest example of mass hysteria.
NR: I've been a medical reporter for 30 years, and over the years I've seen that medical science can convince itself of almost anything, given the right amount of money behind it and the right amount of politics displayed on behalf of it. I think anybody who's a serious medical writer today knows full well that the politics, the ideologies, the public relations interfere vastly with what goes by the name of science. Unfortunately, in the case of AIDS there was a huge rush to judgment. It was premature, it was badly handled by everyone. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, everyone was promised things from the start. It's almost impossible to extricate yourself once you've committed yourself to what I would say is a modern-day hysterical fantasy. As a reporter really early on I was convinced that people were not dealing with the science, they were dealing with their own careers. A lot of people who had mediocre careers were turning them into good careers, because that's where the money was starting to come from. They built this huge edifice, strongly reinforced by bad journalism?journalism that now can't extricate itself from this debacle. It would take a very brave person who's covered AIDS all these years and constantly touted HIV theory as the cause of AIDS to suddenly say oops, I think something's wrong here. And I know many science writers who just don't have the guts to look at these issues?because they never really looked at them from the start.
CF: I've been engaged recently in an e-mail exchange with Larry Kramer. You don't get more mainstream. And I asked him why he won't look at this, what convinces him that HIV is the cause. What I get back from him is, I don't want to talk about Duesberg, it's a big yawn. He's referring to Peter Duesberg [Berkeley microbiologist, one of the earliest opponents of HIV theory; anathematized because he suggested drug use and lifestyle causes]. They think there's this one guy out there, Peter Duesberg, who's saying HIV doesn't cause AIDS. He's the one "Flat Earther," who has the ear of a few sensationalistic journalists who haven't figured out that he's an idiot and he's wrong. But in fact there's a long-standing, massive and growing global network of scientists and academics and journalists who have opposed from every conceivable angle this paradigm.
As Nick outlines in his book.
NR: It can't be emphasized enough that without modern journalism trumpeting data after data after data that really had little context, that was being misinterpreted royally by p.r. concerns?without that, this entire edifice would have crumbled years ago. Had major science writers even read Peter Duesberg from the start?which I'm willing to bet they have not?if they'd read any of this literature which raises questions about HIV, some of them might have raised a red flag. But they didn't, and they continue to ignore it. I've made clear in my column I'll debate any of them publicly, anyone from The New York Times or Newsweek or anywhere else, and we'll go head to head on some of these key science issues?science, not politics?and I maintain the boast that they're not going to last 30 seconds with me.
CF: But the arguments for HIV causing AIDS are not scientific, they're sociological.
NR: Well, that's the point. All you have to do is go back to the basic science and raise the most fundamental questions. I would argue that a lot of the people who claim that they're not interested in alternative views of what AIDS is all about never really bothered to look at the science... People were swept away so powerfully and so early, and they've basically just been regurgitating press releases from the government and what has become a huge moneymaking scientific establishment. The real problem is many of these people don't understand the basic science.
But if they're all wrong, why are incidences of AIDS going down, why does treatment seem to work in some cases?why has the epidemic crested and fallen, if they're all wrong and you're right? Shouldn't it still be spreading like wild fire?
NR: You're asking a very complicated question, and in some ways I would submit it's the wrong question.
NR: Because there's no such thing as a discrete, specific disease. Diseases are linked. We don't have static bodies. Our bodies are in dynamic relationship with everything around us. There's a whole continuum of issues that crop up. For example, take Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which many people think is really a crock. You take a look at many of the things these people experience, you'll find a lot of commonality with AIDS. Gastrointestinal problems, brain problems, a lot of problems that are typically categorized as AIDS. Now, to call that AIDS is just like calling everything Chronic Fatigue. The fact is, you can't separate them that easily. We're talking about categories that are preconceived and don't make a lot of sense once you start looking carefully.
CF: We're talking about to what extent there's an "it." You said why isn't "it" still spreading. You have to really trace the entwinement of the language with the objective symptoms with the constructs that were built and added to by the CDC, and then the only thing that bound this construct together was a positive HIV antibody test.
But people are used to thinking of specific diseases?there's pneumonia, there's multiple sclerosis, there's heart disease, there's this one and that one and there's a thing called AIDS. You're saying no.
CF: There's an immunity collapse. If there's such a thing, a barrier called the immune system, when it breaks down it could open the gateway to all sorts of illnesses.
CO: Do you think they made a mistake in 1980, '81, when they defined what AIDS is?
NR: They had no idea what they were talking about in those days. They even referred to gay men who had this disease as "previously healthy," without any understanding or data about the previous health status of these men. "Previously healthy" based on what medical records? People were getting ill, and to simply say they suddenly got this virus from hell, that they were "previously healthy"?in many ways that's where things really started going wrong.
CO: What they first said was that their T-4 cells [lymphocytes in the immune system] were depleted, and that was the essence of the disease.
NR: That's wrong.
CF: That's murky, because they had never previously thought to look at T-4 cells. People can have low T-4 cell counts for other reasons. But we suddenly put enormous focus on T-4 cells and built a construct around that.
So nobody had been tracking T-4 cells before.
But there was a phenomenon everybody was jumping on. There was an epidemic phenomenon in 1980, '81.
CO: Yes, but there was a long list of things going wrong with these patients immunologically. It wasn't just T-4 cells, it was B-cells, natural killer cell problems, but they decided to focus just on the T-4 cells.
CF: And say there's a relationship between HIV and T-4 cells.
NR: Which became an easy handle for a huge industry to grow around.
CF: The T-4 testing industry, and the HIV testing industry.
CO: They were looking for a specific virus that killed T-4 cells. Had they said it's a disease that involves the B-cells, the natural killer cells, the monocytes, the macrophages, they might have looked for other viruses.
Had they been doing that at that point, would they have found HHV-6?
NR: Robert Gallo found HHV-6 in 1986... Here's a virus, he argued then, that, at least in the laboratory dish, could kill cells much more efficiently and faster than HIV. And even then, in 1986, no one wanted to hear about it... No one wanted to hear what this virus could do. The fact is, as we've now learned, this virus can devastate every component of the immune system.
CF: I think it's important to go back to the very beginning and see why is it that HIV was introduced to the world as the cause of AIDS. There was a press conference in April 1984 where Robert Gallo, then working at the National Cancer Institute, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler, stood together at the podium and announced, the exact words were, "The probable cause of AIDS has been found." And Nick may remember how many days the world "probable" remained in the news accounts.
NR: Not long.
CO: And it should've been, "the probable cause has been stolen." (laughter)
CF: Right. You see, the day before there'd been a big story in the Times that the French were closing in on the probable cause of AIDS. In 1983 Françoise Barre-Sinoussi had identified a new retroviral entity that they called LAV. She'd given it to Luc Montagnier [researcher, author of Virus], and he'd sent it to Gallo and said take a look at this. The French had never said they believed this was the cause of AIDS. It shocks a lot of people when they hear this. People think there must have been some arduous process of arriving at the decision that this virus might be the cause of AIDS. There was nothing. Nothing other than the French sending it to the States, and the U.S. government getting up at a podium and saying, "We've found the probable cause." There was no peer review, no discussion, nothing. The virus wasn't even present in 100 percent of Gallo's original sample.
NR: It was present in a very, very small amount of his sample.
CF: And that later became, "Well, maybe we didn't know then that it was the cause of AIDS, but we know it now." Which is an astounding admission. If you didn't know it then, why did you say it?
Was there something unique about the circumstances that an answer so tenuous was leaped on instantly and universally as the answer, the magic bullet?
NR: First, I think it's because it was gay men coming down with the illness. This is a fundamentally homophobic society, and a racist society to boot. My own feeling is that if these had been heterosexual men in the prime of their lives, there would have been more care taken to try to understand what had occurred. I'm not gay, so I don't have any ax to grind here, but I feel very strongly about this...
The other thing is, the general tendency in this culture is to try to find the "evil" and the magic bullet. By 1980, '81, that stage had certainly been reached in science in this country, with huge government and political ideology blending in and corrupting science. You can find this in heart disease, in cancer, in basically every wing of medical science, this bought-and-sold science with huge p.r. efforts behind it... [AIDS] was no different. It was just so politicized it took off like a bat out of hell.
CO: Don't you think the announcement that they had found the cause ended the panic of 1980, '81?
NR: But it also created a further panic about this evil virus. Which nobody had even defined at this point. Nobody had properly defined its genetic structure. No one was able even to show it grow. It calmed some people, having found the cause, but it created huge panic about this virus being unleashed. Remember, people didn't want to shake the hands of gay men during this time. They were avoiding toilets. Rumors were flying like crazy. They created a huge panic. And a lot of this, I'm as convinced now as I was then, was done for the purpose of fundraising?to try to get money for research.
But if this is just the government picking an answer and running with it, to the detriment of, at the very least, the gay community, why did the gay community jump on it and defend it to this day? And hound Charles Ortleb out of business for questioning it?
NR: Well, it wasn't just the government. The government went with this because it was politically expedient to have a probable cause, even though they didn't have any proof. You know, proof of causation requires a lot of data, and they didn't have that data at the time, but they went with it anyway. So they really went out on a limb and made a lot of promises. That affected the way research got funded. It brought in a lot of scientists, all over the country, who began getting grant money and began feasting. And I use that word "feasting" not with abandon. I really believe that. And when this kind of edifice gets built up, it begins to take on a powerful credibility. I think that with members of the gay community feeling the pain of AIDS as much as they did?particularly in the early years, when a lot of discrimination was also part of the process?I think this community was vulnerable to the huge force of science before them. Their own doctors were telling them, "You guys have to accept that something's very wrong here. This is a virus that's hitting you, and yeah, we don't have all the data, but we're getting it." They sold a bill of goods to the gay community beyond anything I've ever seen as a medical writer.
CF: As terrifying as the viral threat was, at least it was a construct where you could test for it, you could test your T-cells, now you can test your "viral load"?there are all these ways that people can manage their anxiety. And to answer the question of why did all these people fall for it, the AIDS organizations and so on, the best way I can answer that is to refract back the attacks that we tend to get. The most common one by far has been, "What you're doing is only going to promote unsafe sex." At the time, they considered it their revolutionary success that they'd convinced everybody to use condoms. I'm talking about the AIDS industry. They were appalled at the idea of those efforts being undone... They said, "We don't care if Peter Duesberg is right or wrong. We need safe sex." And that's where journalists also drifted into this really ominous realm of seeing themselves as social workers or AIDS educators?they had a higher responsibility than mere journalism. That higher responsibility was behavior control. I think that's the fatal turn AIDS journalism took.
NR: One thing that interests me is that every disease group, every group of people who are ill, basically behave similarly. They begin to try to coalesce around a common point, whether it's heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, whatever. They then look for funding. They then look to make careers out of their own disease?not everybody, but there's a real pattern there. We can forgive them to some extent, because I think it's just human nature to want to do that. But with AIDS it got exacerbated by huge sums of money that the drug industry began to pour into these support groups. They co-opted these people, very early on. They set up the conferences, they gave them status, they gave them ideology, they gave them playback. So that anytime someone like me would go to them, they would just give me the drug company playback. And I would say excuse me, but can you tell me what you think? And I would get drug company playback. It was awesome how fast and furiously they got co-opted. And to this day they won't admit it. That's part of the problem.
CF: They love to say that all this drug company money they take doesn't influence their opinions.
NR: Just like doctors say that taking drug company money doesn't create any conflicts of interest for them
This sounds extraordinarily cynical. You're saying that the entire medical community has been bought by the drug companies.
NR: It's not through willful intention. These things happen subtly and over a long period of time... By and large, most physicians intend to do good, but the roads to hell are paved with good intentions. They don't read the science, for one thing, the ground troops. There are thousands and thousands of articles poured out all the time. Who's going to read all that? So they begin to respond as they do with heart drugs, cancer drugs?they simply prescribe.
CF: And I think most of them truly believe HIV is the cause of AIDS.
But these are massive numbers of people, in the community, the medical establishment, the media, government?they've all hoodwinked themselves into this belief?
NR: Not hoodwinked. It's a process of information assimilation over time. Quite often, in science, you have a small group of opinion leaders who spread the message. The secondary and tertiary groups do not do the reading and thinking. That has a lot to do with time, and peer pressure, and the kind of networking that's built up among scientists. This is not a mass conspiracy. This is not a colossal derangement of mind. This is normal medical business, exacerbated by the huge money that's pumped into the AIDS bureaucracy.
CF: Maybe the scope of this is unprecedented, but I would argue that in the history of medicine, practically every major disease has behind it a fractious debate about causation. What's interesting about this one is the politicization of the causation debate... In that sense there's something normal and healthy about this debate. But when people ask me, "How can you say HIV doesn't cause AIDS? There's no question that HIV causes AIDS," that's where the mass hysteria resides, in the idea that there's something profoundly evil about this. They use phrases like Holocaust revisionism and Flat Earthers. The passion that goes into trying to keep this debate stifled is interesting. As if this isn't even a medical-scientific issue. As if it's really an ideological issue.
NR: One of the problems with science is that there are sets of beliefs that are built up over time. These sets of belief usually fail at some point later when enough data are gathered to provide alternative ways of thinking about reality. There's a lot going on in science today that shakes the HIV hypothesis. For instance, a lot of reconsideration of how the environment within the body changes in response to life outside the body. We tend to focus on viruses from without attacking the body, hitting it very quickly, causing disease and moving on. Of course, that happens a lot. But there's another dynamic that's being explored more and more. We grow up with microbes. They're part and parcel of what we are. We are viruses, we are bacteria for all practical purposes. We've grown up and evolved with them, and they've become part of us. The immune system holds a lot of this in check. For some reason, when that internal environment changes, it changes the way the body will respond to any kind of external or internal threat...
When a virus or toxic elements in the environment hit the body, they alter the internal environment. Very powerful pathogens, that normally live quietly inside of us, can erupt. This is one of the things my book explores. It also raises a huge red flag about HHV-6. In tracking the work that particularly two scientists, Konnie Knox and Don Carrigan, have done, through a wide variety of diseases, they've shown how this entity called HHV-6, or at least one form of it, can take on a life of its own inside the body, whereas previously it's assumed it was relatively quiet. Through the research they've done, they've found active forms of the virus in the area where cells are being killed, in the brain, in the bone marrow, in the lymphoid tissue?all the areas where HIV's supposed to be killing cells, for which there's no direct proof that it does.
Explain in simple terms what HHV-6 is.
NR: HHV-6, in its most common variant, is a herpes virus we all get infected with very early in life.
NR: It's picked up through saliva. That's the primary way.
Yes, you have that image in your book of a mother kissing her baby on the cheek and infecting the baby with it.
NR: It could be as simple as that. For the most part it's dormant and doesn't do major damage to us early on. But it can do major damage. It can cause liver disease, course through children and kill them in days. There's voluminous data on this. It may be responsible for 40 to 50 percent of hospital admissions in early childhood. Kids develop seizures, liver disease, kidney problems, and in some cases the entire body becomes infested with this and kids hemorrhage to death... In 1988 it was found to be the cause of the infant disease known as roseola. A ton of research got published shortly thereafter showing it can be deadly in many cases. And in 1986, Gallo's lab at NCI had identified HHV-6 and proposed it as a cofactor in AIDS... The big problem is it got neglected, because as more research came out about it, it became pretty clear that all of us get infected with this. The argument then was, if all of us get infected, how can we say this is a cause of anything?
It's just lying there in the blood of all of us?
NR: Well, herpes viruses are considered to be reactivating viruses. [For example, the best-known herpes variant, herpes simplex, periodically reactivates and produces sores.] Now, there are two variants of this virus. The one that resides quietly in us and can reactivate is called HHV-6B. With variant A, it's not clear if this is something we pick up as adults through sexual contact or casually. We all get variant B when we're kids. Variant A seems to be operating somewhat differently. The sad truth is we really are not sure what's going on with variant A. You have a variant [B] inside the body that can reactivate in bone marrow transplantation, in people with AIDS, possibly in people with multiple sclerosis, in people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There's good science for this. It's being published all over the world, in good journals.
What I try to do in The Virus Within is to show that something that's been neglected, primarily because of HIV, may turn out to be extremely important in broadening the scope of what we understand not only in AIDS but in all kinds of chronic diseases. I try to follow the science to show that this is a powerful pathogen once aroused...
I'll tell you, the picture that is emerging is complicated. Which raises further questions about the ridiculous simplicity of this HIV theory. It just shows that these people are in the Stone Age and not reconciling new science with what is becoming a huge problem?not only in AIDS but in people suffering from mental disabilities, nervous disabilities, gastrointestinal disabilities.
CF: That gets back to the question of what is "it."
NR: Well, what I tried to show through focusing on these scientists is, they've shown, through looking at various diseases and many special cases of unsolved illnesses, that this virus has a powerful ability to destroy cells. At a certain point in their scientific journey?and they've been published in all the top journals, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet, all the major journals?at a certain point in their journey they confront AIDS. They get samples, they look at brain tissue, lymphoid tissue?they don't find any sign of HIV anywhere near dead tissue. They find active HHV-6. At the very least that should send a huge message to everybody?not just the scientists, but the dissidents as well?that something in the body goes wonkers at a certain point and begins killing cells. And research has shown, consistently, that it kills every major component of the immune system. HIV has never been shown to do this.
CO: Therefore, should there not be a national debate about whether HIV or HHV-6 is the real culprit here?
NR: I'll rephrase that a bit. It's not so much whether HHV-6 is the cause of AIDS per se. The research doesn't conclude that at this point.
CO: Is it not killing AIDS patients at the end stage? Is it not the final onslaught?
NR: It appears to be. The science strongly suggests that it is, and not HIV.
CO: And is it possible that if you could stop HHV-6 replicating in an AIDS patient you could stop AIDS?
NR: Quite possibly.
So can we say that certain sets of behaviors, certain activities, conditions?whether it's drug use, diet, other illnesses, whatever, we don't know at this point?can set the immune system off-balance such that it becomes more vulnerable to HHV-6?
NR: We don't know. It's perfectly reasonable to think that if people take a lot of drugs and damage their immune system they can change the internal environment of the body to the point where HHV-6 goes on a tear. They're showing that very dramatically in people who've had bone marrow transplants, probably people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and certainly in people who die of AIDS. The critical point is that no one has ever shown the same for HIV. [In focusing solely on HIV] we've forgotten a huge amount of data that needs to be plugged in, particularly on this virus, because it seems to be doing the killing. You look at the brain cells [in samples], they're infested with the active form of this virus. I'm sorry, but that's the research.
CF: That's the thing. With HHV-6 you're talking about massive invasion and dead tissue, and they've never been able to show that directly with HIV. Every few years they try another manipulation [of data] to say HIV is infecting people.
NR: They use "markers." It's a total joke.
CF: An abstraction.
NR: You know what they do? They take blood from a person, they spin it around, they get the genetic material in the blood down to a pellet. They take this pellet and they use a magnification technique called PCR. They prime this thing with chemicals, they send a probe in and they find a tiny fragment of HIV. They've made this into the whole show. This is bordering on madness. [And because they're focused solely on finding HIV], they forget about all the other genetic material in that pellet. Some of these people might even have polio, according to the same argument. They find a tiny gene fragment related to polio, would they say that person has polio? That's nuts. It's gone totally out of whack with the basic traditions of good science.
CF: That's one of the important things about HHV-6: it can be quantified. Everything about HIV is inferred.
NR: Through mathematical models or indirect mechanisms.
CF: In other words, cells are dead, HIV can be detected by antibody, therefore it is inferred that HIV killed those cells. Huge leap.
It's not been shown actively killing cells?
CF: Not even remotely.
NR: And HHV-6 has been... I'm not even certain that HIV is a virus. What we call HIV may be simply genetic material from damaged cells [showing up in tests]. It could come from our own genetics. It may just be remnants of a genetic system that's been battered through cellular destruction. This has been proposed by many people. I'm not arguing that's the case. There's some interesting arguments on both sides of that debate. One thing I am clear about is that there's no science that this thing actually causes AIDS.
CF: This is the cutting edge of the AIDS debate today. Not just does HIV cause AIDS, but does it even exist.
Sorry, I keep coming back to what "it" is. I'm the average person, and I have the impression that something called AIDS was rampaging through society. Because of a complex of behavioral strategies, like safe sex, and drugs, that rampage was quelled, and incidences have been going down ever since. Is that just wrong? Is that a myth?
NR: The definition of AIDS as currently constituted really needs a lot of reexamination. The way that AIDS is currently defined?
CF: In the West.
NR: ?In the West. That's a very important distinction that Celia's just made. It's very different from how it's seen in Africa. But yes, AIDS deaths have been decreasing. This is being credited to protease inhibitors and drug cocktails, which is a total crock. Even according to the Centers for Disease Control's own epidemiology, AIDS deaths were dropping well before these drugs became available. There is also some preliminary evidence that even becoming HIV positive peaked as early as 1982 or 1983.
CF: The rate of HIV in the population has not moved, has not budged one iota, since they began testing for HIV in, I guess, 1985.
NR: But this is an outmoded way of looking at AIDS anyway. What is AIDS? AIDS is a collection of different illnesses that have been grouped together in this syndrome. A lot of people have some aspects of this. There are hundreds of thousands of people believed to have what's called Chronic Fatigue. There are a lot of shared aspects [with AIDS].
CO: It's "AIDS Lite." (laughter)
So we don't know what AIDS is and we don't know why incidences of it started to go down?
CF: There are so many things that muddy the waters. For instance, when AZT came on the market and started to be prescribed for those people who tested HIV antibody-positive, not just given to those who were sick, massive amounts of data have since proven that AZT not only mimics the conditions of what we call AIDS, but can actually kill people. So how many deaths during the AZT period were actually caused by AZT? Then AZT's popularity is suddenly decreased as a result of the Concord Study, how does that affect the numbers? In other words, what we call "AIDS deaths" I've never been very clear what we mean.
NR: Is it a liver death, for example? Or did they die of something called AIDS? Nobody knows.
CO: What is going on in Africa?
CF: I spent a month in Africa in 1993. Cote d'Ivoire, Uganda and Kenya. And I did not find a clear picture at all of what here in the media is called "AIDS in Africa." When you actually go to Africa, and go to the wards where people are supposedly dying in droves, you cannot get a doctor to explain to you why they call those deaths AIDS, as opposed to all the other infectious diseases that are rampant in Africa?malaria, TB. Here's a perfect microcosm: I went into a village in [what is supposedly] the epicenter of AIDS. I walked right in and said, "I need to talk to you about 'Slim Disease,'" which is what they call it.
CF: Let me do an aside here. The three things you need to have AIDS in Africa: diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Which are the three most common symptoms of virtually all infectious diseases in Africa.
So that could be messing with the numbers.
CF: And the test they use for HIV in Africa, called the "Elisa" test, is very very inaccurate and reactive. So is the other test [used in the West], but this is worse. If they use any test in Africa, they use the crappy one. So anyway, the guy says, "Oh AIDS, Slim Disease, it's terrible. My two brothers died, my sister died." I said, "I'm so sorry. What did they die of?" He said, "Malaria." "So your brother died of untreated malaria?" "Yes." "Why did you just say he died of AIDS, of Slim?" He laughed and said, "Oh we call everything Slim." It's like a formula. I'm not saying that's the whole story... But the definition of AIDS there is so far from the definition of AIDS in the West Village.
CO: You mentioned the reliability of HIV tests. How reliable are they?
CF: Terrifyingly unreliable. The HIV test does not test strictly for HIV. It tests for proteins said to be unique to HIV. The Perth Group [researchers at the Royal Perth Hospital in Australia, also early doubters of HIV as the cause of AIDS] found they were not so unique to HIV. Meaning it cross-reacts with, I have read, 60-some other molecular components, including malaria, autoimmune diseases. Which means apparently that you could have had malaria and on a bad day test positive for HIV. And then test negative a few weeks later. And we all know people who tested positive, drove across town to another lab and tested negative. The test in interpretive. In fact, different labs have different criteria for what it means to be positive!
NR: And it differs in different parts of the world, too.
CF: It's not a yes-or-no test, it's protein X, Y, Z, do you need this or that [to show up]. It's mind-boggling.
What's the message to all the people out there who've been told they're positive?
CF: They very well might not be. The paper that shattered the myth of the reliable test came out in 1993. The point of it was, does it mean you "have" HIV if you test HIV antibody-positive? Is it proof of infection? And they demonstrated, I think, absolutely that it's not proof of infection.
NR: There are no appropriate standards for this test. End of story. People need to know that. There are horrific standards for this test. It hasn't been proven to be reliable.
CF: You can test HIV positive, but that doesn't mean you have the virus.
NR: Because the test doesn't measure what it purports to measure. People have committed suicide on the basis of this test.
And there are vast numbers of people who've tested positive and, on the basis of this test, been put on this potentially lethal drug cocktail regimen that you discuss in your article, Celia?
CF: Yeah, that's the most serious consequence of this test.
CO: How many people are on protease right now?
CF: I don't have that figure. I do know from one source in my article that about 75 percent on cocktail therapy are healthy when they initiate therapy.
NR: The drug company ads are directed at healthy people.
CF: The whole goal is "lower the amount of virus in your blood." Which is another joke, the "viral load" test, which is now where the paradigm resides. It used to be the HIV test. Now if you go to a party full of gay men in New York they'll be talking about their viral load numbers. That's the latest thing that has to be deconstructed immediately. Viral load is another technology that was sold to a population that was already primed to believe in the numbers and measuring. It's incredibly alarming. People think it's measuring the amount of virus in their blood. It is not. It is taking fragments of a gene and mass-amplifying it, then extrapolating numbers from that mass-amplification.
NR: In other words, if there was really an infectious virus there, you wouldn't need to "amplify" it. You'd find it pretty easily.
CF: For instance, to find any HIV in breast milk they have to run 45 cycles of PCR.
NR: It's in the trillions of magnification.
CF: And yet they're prepared to stop all mothers from breast-feeding in the Third World. This is how deep the HIV spell runs. We will stop at absolutely nothing to eradicate a virus that's not there...
In what other disease are people similarly controlled and brainwashed and rendered obsessed with numbers and arcane technologies? Normally, when you get sick is when you're sick. Not when you get freaked out and start testing levels of viral load in your blood and compare them to the next guy's viral load. Trusting some total assholes to comment on whether you're going to get sick 12, 15 years down the road... How dare they tell people they're going to die? They used to tell people they were going to die in two years if they tested positive. Then they stretched it to five years, 10 years, 15 years. And there was always this faith in what they said. What people didn't realize was that these guys were making it up as they went along. They invented themselves to begin with as "AIDS experts," when in fact the whole thing was steeped in mystery and all kinds of questions. I guess to quell that terror, certain "experts" became paternal figures and put people at ease. It hasn't bothered anybody that they've been catastrophically wrong in most of their utterances.
Nick, you're at ABC News, the most mainstream of mainstream media. You don't get a hard time for your views?
NR: I enjoy good relationships with people at ABC News. They know I'm contentious, they know I'm kind of a firebrand. I get a lot of support from Peter Jennings, who believes reporters should be reporters. If you hit against a wall where everybody says you're nuts for a while, that's fine too. I can't say enough about how much I've been encouraged.
How is it the drug company advertisers don't call and say, "Shut that guy up!"?
NR: They do. (laughter.) But they know I can defend myself if need be.