ANY NEW INFO. ON THE NY STRAIN?
Jun 16, 2005
Dear Dr. Bob, I was just wondering what ever happened to the NY man that was infected with the "new" strain. It hit the news for a few days and now I have never heard anythign else about it. Perhaps you have and can give a bit of insight!
Response from Dr. Frascino
Ah yes, the Attack of the Superviruses. As it turns out, this big, bad media bugout is ending, not with a bang, but rather with a whimper.
So what happened? Well on February 11, 2005 New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, M.D. dropped a bombshell announcement that a local man had progressed from HIV infection to AIDS in months rather than years, and his strain of HIV virus seemed impervious to normally effective medicines. The press reaction was swift, chilling and predictable: "New AIDS Super Bug Nightmare Strain Shows up in City", blared the NY Post. "Rare and deadlier form of AIDS," read the NY Times. Soon it was on CNN and the nightly news. "A frightening, never-before-seen 'superstrain' . . . full-blown AIDS sets in with lightening speed." "New AIDS Peril Puts America on High Alert," announced the Hindu and other international papers. "Rare strain of HIV resists drugs, builds rapidly into AIDS," trumpeted the Wall Street Journal. So with headlines of a potential new killer spreading rapidly around the world, physicians were warned to prepare for a possible new phase of the epidemic.
Other AIDS experts and I immediately questioned the importance of a single case and the strategy of publicizing it so dramatically with such incomplete data. Months later our doubts appear to have been validated. No superstrain has emerged. The patient has responded to drug therapy. No one not even the man's known sexual partners has been found to be infected with the same HIV strain! To put it bluntly, the announcement was not only premature, but scientifically nave and needlessly alarmist. I'm also concerned this blunder has risked the effectiveness of future prevention efforts.
So why all the hubbub and ballyhoo? Well, perhaps it was misguided good intentions. However, some are suspicious of Dr. David Ho's involvement. Dr. Ho, named Time Magazine's "Man of the Year" for 1996 for his role in helping usher in the era of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), is also chairman of a prestigious annual HIV/AIDS medical conference on retroviruses (CROI). That conference was scheduled to open in Boston two weeks after the "superbug" announcement was made. Dr. Ho is developing a reputation for announcing dramatic HIV/AIDS findings to the press around the time of scientific conferences. He is also developing a reputation for being wrong and over-hyping his findings! In 2002 he announced he had discovered a long-sought natural defense against HIV produced by CD8 cells. He recently retracted those findings in the magazine Science. In 1996 at the International AIDS Conference in Vancouver, Ho grabbed headlines (and hopes) by suggesting the possibility of complete HIV eradication from the body (i.e. "cure") by using the new protease inhibitors. Those hopes were dashed within a year. So it's been suggested that the well-timed "supervirus" announcement was Ho's "Retrovirus Surprise" and resulted more from "superego" than a superstrain of HIV.
There were a number of other red flags that this case was not so unique or newsworthy. Cases of rapid progression from HIV to AIDS have been documented multiple times in the past. It occurs in a small subset of those who acquire the virus. Resistance to multiple classes of AIDS drugs is also becoming increasingly common, even in newly infected individuals.
Consequently, what appears to have transpired is a perfect-storm event of an unusual but hardly unique case that became super-sized by runaway imaginations, inflated egos, political opportunism and a gullible press ready to panic. Some have wondered if the brouhaha over this individual was simply a heavy-handed way of getting the attention of complacent physicians and an apathetic at-risk community. In my opinion, the shocking realities of HIV/AIDS should be more than sufficient for all of us to realize that HIV/AIDS is not a distant threat, but rather a clear and present danger. Crying wolf will not help end HIV/AIDS indifference, complacency and apathy, all of which have truly become epidemic in proportion.
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