San Francisco Chronicle Reviews Origin of HIV Theories
In a two-part series, the San Francisco Chronicle outlines a brief history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how certain theories about the origin of HIV emerged. The series specifically chronicles the evolution of Edward Hooper's theory that HIV/AIDS originated in African villages where a U.S. company tested one of the world's first oral polio vaccines in the late 1950s. Hooper in 1999 published a book on this theory, titled "The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS," which eventually spurred the "first-ever conference on the origin of the AIDS epidemic," held in September 2000 by the Royal Society of London. Hooper first learned about AIDS as a reporter for the BBC when he visited Kampala, Uganda, to investigate an outbreak of a "new disease" that medical experts believed to be AIDS along the western shore of Lake Victoria. Hooper had been researching the origin of AIDS when he came across a Rolling Stone magazine article that discussed the oral polio vaccine theory (Carlsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/14). In pursuit of this theory, Hooper, a literature major in college, taught himself molecular biology, virology, geography, primatology and other disciplines, and "analyzed virtually every plausible theory about the origin of the AIDS epidemic." He also conducted more than 600 interviews in Africa, Europe and the United States. Hooper eventually published his findings in the 1,070-page book, "The River," which, according to the Chronicle, presents "a significant body of indirect evidence in support of the contaminated vaccine theory" and analyzes "virtually every other theory or avenue of research attempting to explain how the AIDS epidemic started."
Meanwhile, Preston Marx, a virologist at the University of California-Davis, was developing a similar theory: the virus might have spread and become more virulent during "injection campaigns" to combat malaria, syphilis and other illnesses. International relief agencies administered 12 million injections of penicillin in Central Africa between 1952 and 1957, which was known to cause a "massive" outbreak of hepatitis C. Marx believed the injection campaigns in Africa not only helped spread HIV but also caused the virus to develop into its current virulent state through "serial passage." Marx explained that as the virus entered each host's immune system, it would mutate and grow stronger before passing on to the next host. Although serial passage is a "very rare occurrence," the "huge influx of needles" in Africa during the 1950s "exponentially increased the opportunity for serial passage to occur," Marx said. Marx presented this theory at the Royal Society of London AIDS conference, and other prominent AIDS researchers disclosed their own findings in opposition to Hooper's theory. Research presented by a number of scientists generated "perhaps insurmountable" doubt about Hooper's contaminated vaccine theory, but Marx's theory was well-received. "The consequences of massive unsterile injecting appears to be another case of unintended consequences of technological innovation," Marx said, referring to the invention of the hypodermic needle. But Hooper continues to investigate the polio vaccine theory, saying that "nothing at the Royal Society conference conclusively disproved the contaminated vaccine theory," and Marx is planning to "catch the virus in the act" of transforming from SIV, the chimpanzee version of the virus, to HIV by collecting used needles from Cameroon's medical clinics (Carlsen, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/15). To view the complete report, enter http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/01/14/MN140641.DTL into your Web browser.