with Christine Maggiore
“Drugged and Confused”
I’ve enjoyed reading your columns but have a question for you. I was diagnosed HIV positive a couple of years ago and have been on a drug “cocktail” for most of that time. My AIDS symptoms disappeared, and I have not had any noticeable side effects. My doctor says my bloodwork looks good, but I’m in turmoil. One part of me says “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” but I also acknowledge the fact that dumping all these poisons into my system may cause eventual problems. I’m also confused: If HIV isn’t responsible for AIDS, then what do you think caused my illness, and why did the symptoms leave after being on the drugs?
Thank you so much!
A guy in Orange County
I’m glad to know you’re open-minded about these issues and I thank you for writing.
Without knowing the details of your health history, what specific drugs treatments you’ve been taking, and the “AIDS symptoms” that disappeared since you’ve been taking treatment, it’s impossible to offer any responsible comment. From my research and experience, I’ve concluded that health is a very individual matter that can rarely be reduced to sweeping common denominators such as a person’s HIV status.
What I can offer in reply is that there are many well-founded reasons to question the concept that an HIV-positive diagnosis is an indicator of current infection with HIV. As you may know from past columns or from the information at our web site, the tests do not detect actual HIV, nor are they able to specifically identify HIV antibodies. And since all the AIDS-defining illnesses have widely recognized causes and treatments that have nothing to do with HIV, many positive-diagnosed people question the wisdom of taking toxic anti-HIV drugs to remedy these illnesses.
At the same time, some studies have shown that the extremely potent protease inhibitors used in drug cocktails have unintended anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effects. This may explain why some very ill people who take these drugs recover from certain infections. These health improvements have not been shown to occur consistently among patients, however, and have only been noted in very brief studies. The many adverse effects of the protease inhibitors — liver toxicity in 1 in 10 users; 3 in 10 users experience a metabolic disorder called lipodystrophy that results in elevated cholesterol, heart attacks and/or physical deformities; disruption of vital immune functions and list of other problems that may manifest after prolonged use — are reason to consider treating fungal and bacterial infections directly. Because of the dangers of these and other AIDS drugs, many HIV positives choose to forgo accepted standards of care and treat any health problem that may arise with non-HIV-based therapies.
I suggest you research the issues that concern you and make a
decision that feels right for you. If you need help with any aspect of your
investigation, please let me know. I’ve also mailed you a copy of Alive &
Well AIDS Alternatives’ AIDS Drug Info Pack that provides extensive
information on AIDS drugs you won’t find anywhere else (except at our web
Take care and stay in touch,
In your book you complain that the tests for HIV are not perfect, that is, they generate false positives (and false negatives). EVERY medical test ever invented has the same problem to a greater or lesser extent. This is part of the imperfect world we live in — not something special about HIV.
Dr. Michael Henle,
Dear Dr. Henle,
The point you raise is well taken and true — there is no such thing as a perfect diagnostic test. Further, there is no such thing as a specific antibody test since human beings don’t even produce specific (or monoclonal) antibodies. Because of this, antibody tests can only be counted on to provide reliable information when they are properly constructed and applied.
From what I understand, it is the lack of proper construction and application that distinguishes HIV tests from most all other similar diagnostics.
With regard to construction, the specificity and the accuracy of HIV tests were determined by assuming that 100% of people with AIDS-defining illnesses who tested positive had actual current infection with HIV. The specificity was established by assuming that 100% of symptomless blood donors not in AIDS risk groups who tested HIV negative did not have a current infection with HIV.
Here’s the text from the Abbott HIV test that reveals how accuracy and specificity were established: “specificity is based on an assumed zero prevalence of HIV-1 antibody in random donors and is estimated to be 99.9%...” while “sensitivity is based on an assumed 100% prevalence of HIV-1 antibody in AIDS patients and is estimated to be 100%.” (Abbott Laboratories HIV-1 Antibody Test)
I think everyone can appreciate what a poor way this is to design a diagnostic, especially one used to diagnose infection with an allegedly- fatal virus. The newer HIV tests are still verified against antibody tests that rely on assumptions and estimates.
What should have been done in 1984 when HIV tests were first created, was to use isolation of the virus as an independent “gold standard” or measure of accuracy. That is, of the people with AIDS-defining illnesses who tested HIV positive, it should have been determined what percent had actual HIV that could be found in their fresh, uncultured plasma. Instead, it was simply assumed that 99.9% had HIV. No one has since established the accuracy or the specificity by means of determining the presence or absence of actual HIV.
Another unique feature of HIV tests is that such diagnostics usually have a specificity and accuracy for risk groups and for non-risk groups, while HIV does not.
Also, other blood tests use either straight blood or a sample that has been diluted from 1:1 on up to 16 times, and there is a reference for how the dilution rate was established. Instead, HIV tests use a 1:400 dilution and there is no referenced or even unreferenced explanation for this practice.
With regard to application, my understanding is that antibody tests are typically given to people experiencing symptoms that might indicate a certain disease. For instance, if I were fatigued, had a low grade fever and swollen glands, an Epstein-Barr antibody test might be used to indicate if I had mono. Instead, HIV tests are used for widespread screening among symptomless people which creates a problem with false positives for even the most accurate diagnostic test.
For these (and other) reasons, I disagree with your remark that
there is nothing unusual about HIV tests.
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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