This statement is incorrect and misleading. Although anti-HIV drugs can and do cause alterations in liver function that must be monitored carefully, a pile of studies over the past several years conclude that most deaths from liver failure are due to coinfection with hepatitis C or B, not side effects from the drugs. The immune system deficiencies caused by HIV infection make people more vulnerable to hepatitis infection.


On 2/16/07, Mitchel Cohen <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
The leading cause of death in HIV-positives in the U.S. in
the last few years has been liver failure, not an
AIDS-defining disease in any way, but rather an
acknowledged side effect of protease inhibitors,
which asymptomatic individuals take in massive daily doses, for years.

Why I Quit HIV

by Rebecca V. Culshaw
rebeccavculshaw (at)

As I write this, in the late winter of 2006, we
are more than twenty years into the AIDS era.
Like many, a large part of my life has been
irreversibly affected by AIDS. My entire
adolescence and adult life as well as the lives
of many of my peers has been overshadowed by
the belief in a deadly, sexually transmittable
pathogen and the attendant fear of intimacy and
lack of trust that belief engenders.

To add to this impact, my chosen career has
developed around the HIV model of AIDS. I
received my Ph.D. in 2002 for my work
constructing mathematical models of HIV
infection, a field of study I entered in 1996.
Just ten years later, it might seem early for me
to be looking back on and seriously reconsidering
my chosen field, yet here I am.

My work as a mathematical biologist has been
built in large part on the paradigm that HIV
causes AIDS, and I have since come to realize
that there is good evidence that the entire basis
for this theory is wrong. AIDS, it seems, is not
a disease so much as a sociopolitical construct
that few people understand and even fewer
question. The issue of causation, in particular,
has become beyond question even to bring it up is deemed irresponsible.

Why have we as a society been so quick to accept
a theory for which so little solid evidence
exists? Why do we take proclamations by
government institutions like the NIH and the CDC,
via newscasters and talk show hosts, entirely on
faith? The average citizen has no idea how weak
the connection really is between HIV and AIDS,
and this is the manner in which scientifically
insupportable phrases like "the AIDS virus" or
"an AIDS test" have become part of the common
vernacular despite no evidence for their accuracy.

When it was announced in 1984 that the cause of
AIDS had been found in a retrovirus that came to
be known as HIV, there was a palpable panic. My
own family was immediately affected by this
panic, since my mother had had several blood
transfusions in the early 1980s as a result of
three late miscarriages she had experienced. In
the early days, we feared mosquito bites,
kissing, and public toilet seats. I can still
recall the panic I felt after looking up in a
public restroom and seeing some graffiti that
read "Do you have AIDS yet? If not, sit on this toilet seat."

But I was only ten years old then, and over time
the panic subsided to more of a dull roar as it
became clear that AIDS was not as easy to "catch"
as we had initially believed. Fear of going to
the bathroom or the dentist was replaced with a
more realistic wariness of having sex with anyone
we didn't know really, really well. As a teenager
who was in no way promiscuous, I didn't have much to worry about.

That all changed or so I thought when I was
twenty-one. Due to circumstances in my personal
life and a bit of paranoia that (as it turned
out, falsely and completely groundlessly) led me
to believe I had somehow contracted "AIDS," I got
an HIV test. I spent two weeks waiting for the
results, convinced that I would soon die, and
that it would be "all my fault." This was despite
the fact that I was perfectly healthy, didn't use
drugs, and wasn't promiscuous low-risk by any
definition. As it happened, the test was
negative, and, having felt I had been granted a
reprieve, I vowed not to take more risks, and to quit worrying so much.

Over the past ten years, my attitude toward HIV
and AIDS has undergone a dramatic shift. This
shift was catalyzed by the work I did as a
graduate student, analyzing mathematical models
of HIV and the immune system. As a mathematician,
I found virtually every model I studied to be
unrealistic. The biological assumptions on which
the models were based varied from author to
author, and this made no sense to me. It was
around this time, too, that I became increasingly
perplexed by the stories I heard about long-term
survivors. From my admittedly inexpert viewpoint,
the major thing they all had in common other
than HIV was that they lived extremely healthy
lifestyles. Part of me was becoming suspicious
that being HIV-positive didn't necessarily mean you would ever get AIDS.

By a rather curious twist of fate, it was on my
way to a conference to present the results of a
model of HIV that I had proposed together with my
advisor, that I came across an article by Dr.
David Rasnick about AIDS and the corruption of
modern science. As I sat on the airplane reading
this story, in which he said "the more I examined
HIV, the less it made sense that this largely
inactive, barely detectable virus could cause
such devastation," everything he wrote started
making sense to me in a way that the currently
accepted model did not. I didn't have anywhere
near all the information, but my instincts told
me that what he said seemed to fit.

Over the past ten years, I nevertheless continued
my research into mathematical models of HIV
infection, all the while keeping an ear open for
dissenting voices. By now, I have read hundreds
of articles on HIV and AIDS, many from the
dissident point of view but far, far more from
that of the establishment, which unequivocally
promotes the idea that HIV causes AIDS and that
the case is closed. In that time, I even
published four papers on HIV (from a modeling
perspective). I justified my contributions to a
theory I wasn't convinced of by telling myself
these were purely theoretical, mathematical
constructs, never to be applied in the real
world. I suppose, in some sense also, I wanted to keep an open mind.

So why is it that only now have I decided that
enough is enough, and I can no longer in any
capacity continue to support the paradigm on
which my entire career has been built?

As a mathematician, I was taught early on about
the importance of clear definitions. AIDS, if you
consider its definition, is far from clear, and
is in fact not even a consistent entity. The
classification "AIDS" was introduced in the early
1980s not as a disease but as a surveillance tool
to help doctors and public health officials
understand and control a strange "new" syndrome
affecting mostly young gay men. In the two
decades intervening, it has evolved into
something quite different. AIDS today bears
little or no resemblance to the syndrome for
which it was named. For one thing, the definition
has actually been changed by the CDC several
times, continually expanding to include ever more
diseases (all of which existed for decades prior
to AIDS), and sometimes, no disease whatsoever.
More than half of all AIDS diagnoses in the past
several years in the United States have been made
on the basis of a T-cell count and a "confirmed"
positive antibody test in other words, a deadly
disease has been diagnosed over and over again on
the basis of no clinical disease at all. And the
leading cause of death in HIV-positives in the
last few years has been liver failure, not an
AIDS-defining disease in any way, but rather an
acknowledged side effect of protease inhibitors,
which asymptomatic individuals take in massive daily doses, for years.

The epidemiology of HIV and AIDS is puzzling and
unclear as well. In spite of the fact that AIDS
cases increased rapidly from their initial
observation in the early 1980s and reached a peak
in 1993 before declining rapidly, the number of
HIV-positive individuals in the U.S. has remained
constant at one million since the advent of
widespread HIV antibody testing. This cannot be
due to anti-HIV therapy, since the annual
mortality rate of North American HIV-positives
who are treated with anti-HIV drugs is much
higher between 6.7 and 8.8% than would be the
approximately 12% global mortality rate of
HIV-positives if all AIDS cases were fatal in a given year.

Even more strangely, HIV has been present
everywhere in the U.S., in every population
tested including repeat blood donors and military
recruits, at a virtually constant rate since
testing began in 1985. It is deeply confusing
that a virus thought to have been brought to the
AIDS epicenters of New York, San Francisco and
Los Angeles in the early 1970s could possibly
have spread so rapidly at first, yet have stopped
spreading completely as soon as testing began.

Returning for a moment to the mathematical
modeling, one aspect that had always puzzled me
was the lack of agreement on how to accurately
represent the actual biological mechanism of
immune impairment. AIDS is said to be caused by a
dramatic loss of the immune system's T-cells,
said loss being presumably caused by HIV. Why
then could no one agree on how to mathematically
model the dynamics of the fundamental disease
process that is, how are T-cells actually
killed by HIV? Early models assumed that HIV
killed T-cells directly, by what is referred to
as lysis. An infected cell lyses, or bursts, when
the internal viral burden is so high that it can
no longer be contained, just like your grocery
bag breaks when it's too full. This is in fact
the accepted mechanism of pathogenesis for
virtually all other viruses. But it became clear
that HIV did not in fact kill T-cells in this
manner, and this concept was abandoned, to be
replaced by various other ones, each of which
resulted in very different models and, therefore,
different predictions. Which model was "correct" never was clear.

As it turns out, the reason there was no
consensus mathematically as to how HIV killed
T-cells was because there was no biological
consensus. There still isn't. HIV is possibly the
most studied microbe in history certainly it is
the best-funded yet there is still no
agreed-upon mechanism of pathogenesis. Worse than
that, there are no data to support the hypothesis
that HIV kills T-cells at all. It doesn't in the
test tube. It mostly just sits there, as it does
in people if it can be found at all. In Robert
Gallo's seminal 1984 paper in which he claims
"proof" that HIV causes AIDS, actual HIV could be
found in only 26 out of 72 AIDS patients. To
date, actual HIV remains an elusive target in
those with AIDS or simply HIV-positive.

This is starkly illustrated by the continued use
of antibody tests to diagnose HIV infection.
Antibody tests are fairly standard to test for
certain microbes, but for anything other than
HIV, the main reason they are used in place of
direct tests (that is, actually looking for the
bacteria or virus itself) is because they are
generally much easier and cheaper than direct
testing. Most importantly, such antibody tests
have been rigorously verified against the gold
standard of microbial isolation. This stands in
vivid contrast to HIV, for which antibody tests
are used because there exists no test for the
actual virus. As to so-called "viral load," most
people are not aware that tests for viral load
are neither licensed nor recommended by the FDA
to diagnose HIV infection. This is why an "AIDS
test" is still an antibody test. Viral load,
however, is used to estimate the health status of
those already diagnosed HIV-positive. But there
are very good reasons to believe it does not work
at all. Viral load uses either PCR or a technique
called branched-chained DNA amplification (bDNA).
PCR is the same technique used for "DNA
fingerprinting" at crime scenes where only trace
amounts of materials can be found. PCR
essentially mass-produces DNA or RNA so that it
can be seen. If something has to be mass-produced
to even be seen, and the result of that
mass-production is used to estimate how much of a
pathogen there is, it might lead a person to
wonder how relevant the pathogen was in the first
place. Specifically, how could something so hard
to find, even using the most sensitive and
sophisticated technology, completely decimate the
immune system? bDNA, while not magnifying
anything directly, nevertheless looks only for
fragments of DNA believed, but not proven, to be
components of the genome of HIV but there is no
evidence to say that these fragments don't exist
in other genetic sequences unrelated to HIV or to
any virus. It is worth noting at this point that
viral load, like antibody tests, has never been
verified against the gold standard of HIV
isolation. bDNA uses PCR as a gold standard, PCR
uses antibody tests as a gold standard, and
antibody tests use each other. None use HIV itself.

There is good reason to believe the antibody
tests are flawed as well. The two types of tests
routinely used are the ELISA and the Western Blot
(WB). The current testing protocol is to "verify"
a positive ELISA with the "more specific" WB
(which has actually been banned from diagnostic
use in the UK because it is so unreliable). But
few people know that the criteria for a positive
WB vary from country to country and even from lab
to lab. Put bluntly, a person's HIV status could
well change depending on the testing venue. It is
also possible to test "WB indeterminate," which
translates to any one of "uninfected," "possibly
infected," or even, absurdly, "partly infected"
under the current interpretation. This conundrum
is confounded by the fact that the proteins
comprising the different reactive "bands" on the
WB test are all claimed to be specific to HIV,
raising the question of how a truly uninfected
individual could possess antibodies to even one "HIV-specific" protein.

I have come to sincerely believe that these HIV
tests do immeasurably more harm than good, due to
their astounding lack of specificity and
standardization. I can buy the idea that
anonymous screening of the blood supply for some
nonspecific marker of ill health (which, due to
cross reactivity with many known pathogens, a
positive HIV antibody test often seems to be) is
useful. I cannot buy the idea that any individual
needs to have a diagnostic HIV test. A negative
test may not be accurate (whatever that means),
but a positive one can create utter havoc and
destruction in a person's life all for a virus
that most likely does absolutely nothing. I do
not feel it is going too far to say that these
tests ought to be banned for diagnostic purposes.

The real victims in this mess are those whose
lives are turned upside-down by the stigma of an
HIV diagnosis. These people, most of whom are
perfectly healthy, are encouraged to avoid
intimacy and are further branded with the
implication that they were somehow dreadfully
foolish and careless. Worse, they are encouraged
to take massive daily doses of some of the most
toxic drugs ever manufactured. HIV, for many
years, has fulfilled the role of a microscopic
terrorist. People have lost their jobs, been
denied entry into the Armed Forces, been refused
residency in and even entry into some countries,
even been charged with assault or murder for
having consensual sex; babies have been taken
from their mothers and had toxic medications
forced down their throats. There is no precedent
for this type of behavior, as it is all in the
name of a completely unproven, fundamentally
flawed hypothesis, on the basis of highly
suspect, indirect tests for supposed infection
with an allegedly deadly virus a virus that has
never been observed to do much of anything.

As to the question of what does cause AIDS, if it
is not HIV, there are many plausible explanations
given by people known to be experts. Before the
discovery of HIV, AIDS was assumed to be a
lifestyle syndrome caused mostly by
indiscriminate use of recreational drugs.
Immunosuppression has multiple causes, from an
overload of microbes to malnutrition. Probably
all of these are true causes of AIDS. Immune
deficiency has many manifestations, and a
syndrome with many manifestations is likely
multicausal as well. Suffice it to say that the
HIV hypothesis of AIDS has offered nothing but
predictions of its spread, of the availability
of a vaccine, of a forthcoming animal model, and
so on that have not materialized, and it has not saved a single life.

After ten years involved in the academic side of
HIV research, as well as in the academic world at
large, I truly believe that the blame for the
universal, unconditional, faith-based acceptance
of such a flawed theory falls squarely on the
shoulders of those among us who have actively
endorsed a completely unproven hypothesis in the
interests of furthering our careers. Of course,
hypotheses in science deserve to be studied, but
no hypothesis should be accepted as fact before
it is proven, particularly one whose blind
acceptance has such dire consequences.

For over twenty years, the general public has
been greatly misled and ill-informed. As someone
who has been raised by parents who taught me from
a young age never to believe anything just
because "everyone else accepts it to be true," I
can no longer just sit by and do nothing, thereby
contributing to this craziness. And the craziness
has gone on long enough. As humans as honest
academics and scientists the only thing we can
do is allow the truth to come to light.

March 3, 2006

Rebecca V. Culshaw, Ph.D., is a mathematical
biologist who has been working on mathematical
models of HIV infection for the past ten years.
She received her Ph.D. (mathematics with a
specialization in mathematical biology) from
Dalhousie University in Canada in 2002 and is
currently employed as an Assistant Professor of
Mathematics at a university in Texas.


Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
[log in to unmask]