Questioning Aids 
By Christine Maggiore 



Dear Christine: 
Iíve read that South Africa has a huge AIDS epidemic, mostly among women and children. Even if AZT has some side effects, it does cut down on transmission of HIV from mother to child when taken during pregnancy. Doesnít it make sense to use AZT to prevent more AIDS cases?
Concerned in Newport 

Dear Concerned,
Recent news reports claiming that AIDS is raging out of control in South Africa are all based on estimates. One popularly-cited estimate places the number of HIV positives in that country at 4 million, but with a total of less than 15,000 actual AIDS cases in South Africa for the entire 19 year period known as the AIDS epidemic, this estimate is way out of line with reality.

 In two studies, AZT was credited with lower rates of HIV positivity among children born to HIV-positive mothers. But since the meaning of a positive HIV antibody test is highly disputed, the results of the studies are of questionable value. As noted in the medical literature, HIV antibody tests are unable to specifically identify HIV antibodies, and they cross-react with antibodies produced in response to more than 60 conditions unrelated to HIV including pregnancy itself. Exposure to malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other conditions known to cause false-positives are very common among people in Africa which further confounds the meaning of the test. 

What makes more sense than AZT is proper nutrition. A crucial study on mother to child ďHIV transmissionĒ that showed a 7.2% transmission rate ó a rate lower than any attributed to AZTówas achieved through adequate nourishment of expectant mothers.* Since greater success in reducing transmission can be accomplished without the risk of administering a toxic drug, I wonder why AIDS activists arenít advocating this option. Especially considering the well-documented effects of in-utero AZT on children: Rare brain disorders, cancers, severe illness, mitochondrial damage, life-threatening anemia, and physical deformities such as misshapen heads, cavities in the chest, and extra or webbed fingers.** 

Dear Christine,
Are women who are pregnant and test HIV positive required to take AZT or give it to their babies after theyíre born? Iím pregnant and am considering taking the test. 
Thanks, Lisa 

Dear Lisa,
AZT treatment for pregnant women is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and has, along with AZT infusion during labor, Cesarean section at birth, and formula feeding for the baby throughout infancy, become the standard of care in the U.S. and Canada. 

According to the CDCís treatment guidelines, HIV-positive expectant mothers may decline AZT for themselves and their children. However, according to child protection agencies in this and other countries, forgoing treatment with AZT ó a drug officially classified as a carcinogen (causes cancer), a mutagen (causes mutations in the genetic material of cells) and a teratogen (causes physical abnormalities in the developing fetus) ó is grounds for charges of parental neglect. The situation in our country has become such that the healthy, HIV-negative baby of a healthy, untreated HIV-positive mother was taken from parental custody and given AZT by state mandate. When considering a prenatal HIV test, consider that a positive result could place your right to informed choice about your health care and that of your baby in serious jeopardy. 

Dear Christine, 
Some womenís rights activists are saying that AZT therapy should be routinely given to rape victims to keep them from getting AIDS. Whatís your take on this?
Jennifer M., Santa Ana 

Dear Jennifer,
The idea that a short course of AZT can prevent HIV infection post exposure is short on logic and is related to unsubstantiated claims that AZT can prevent HIV infection in health care workers punctured by tainted needles. In fact, it has never been established that AZT can prevent such infection. In the 19 years known as the AIDS epidemic, there has not been a single case of a health care worker who acquired AIDS via needle-stick reported in the medical literature. Also, there are no studies comparing untreated victims of HIV needle-stick accidents to AZT treated cohorts. Considering the remarkable lack of evidence for such prophylactic use of AZT, there is no basis for the idea that AZT be given to victims of rape. In my opinion, giving them AZT treatment would be another form of abuse. 

Dear Christine,
Two years ago I discovered that I was HIV positive and have been so for a least ten years. I was never ill until recently when I got pneumonia which really scared me. After I got better, my doctor put me on the drugs and ever since, Iíve been having really bad side effects but my viral load is low. I donít know if I believe that HIV causes AIDS. How can I stop taking the drugs and keep my viral load down? 
Jessica V. 

Dear Jessica, 
The only reason to stop taking the drugs would be if you are unconvinced that they are helpful. Mainstream AIDS experts acknowledge that they are harmful, but also insist that the benefits outweigh the harm. 

While Iím not a scientist, I see no evidence that HIV is a pathogen (something that can cause harm), and I see no evidence that HIV tests detect HIV. Instead, the tests detect proteins that may or may not correspond to HIV antibodies, or in the case of the viral load test, genetic scraps. Viral load tests donít tell us about health, or even about the presence of virus.

One study in the medical journal Science revealed that more than half of HIV-positive participants with detectable viral loads ó some as high as the hundreds of thousands ó had no HIV virus. (FYI, this study used co-culture, a method of detecting virus that places blood cells into a culture and stimulates them with chemicals that do not occur naturally in the body. This process often causes otherwise dormant DNA to produce virus.) Other journal articles cite HIV- negative subjects with viral loads as high as 100,000 ó and itís thought that a load of 10,000 for anyone who tests positive indicates an urgent need to start medication! The only claim of benefits from the drugs is that they may sometimes lower viral load. But studies show that low viral load results do not correspond with high T-cells or with good health. 

It would be difficult for me to find a reason to take drugs with no known benefits and well-documented adverse effects, and that are designed to attack a virus that in at least half the cases, isnít even there. If you want to stop the drugs, however, you need to have your own reasons, and the best way I know to establish those reasons is by becoming informed. I also know how hard it is to have an open mind when youíre scared, but please try. I have sent you detailed information by mail and I invite you to contact me anytime with any questions. 

*Semba, RD et al, 1993, Increased Mortality Associated with Vitamin A Deficiency During HIV 1 Infection, Arch Intern Med 153: 2149-2154) 

**Agarwal & Olivero, Genotoxicity and Mitochondrial Damage in Human Lymphocytic Cells Chronically Exposed to AZT, Mutat Res, 1997; 390(3): 223-231; Kumar, RM et al 1994 Zidovudine Use in Pregnancy: A Report on 104 cases and birth defects, Journal of AIDS 7(10):1034-1039) 

ALIVE & WELL Alternative AIDS Information Network (the organization formerly known as HEAL Los Angeles), offers free information, free meetings and classes challenging the HIV-AIDS paradigm. Call toll-free for details (877) 92-ALIVE.

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