April 22, 2003
Luc Montagnier, the French biologist who was the joint discoverer of HIV, voiced fears Monday that the death rate from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) would be much higher among people who also have HIV/AIDS. "SARS is caused by another virus [than HIV], and it does not kill lots of people -- around 4 to 5 percent [of those infected]. But if the immune system is depressed by AIDS, the toll would be much higher," Montagnier said at a Tokyo press conference.
"It would be very alarming if people would be infected with both SARS and AIDS. ... It is a concern especially for southern China where you have both AIDS infection ongoing and SARS starting," Montagnier said.
The World Health Organization said on Monday the death toll from SARS in China had risen to 86, with 1,959 confirmed cases as of Sunday evening.
Montagnier endorsed isolating patients with SARS and placing suspect cases in quarantine early on to prevent the spread of the disease. "We are just beginning to learn how it is transmitted, the nature of virus ... it is very difficult to mount a policy of treatment and prevention," he said, adding that so far the only treatment for the potentially deadly pneumonia is to boost the natural resistance of the carrier. "My strong advice would be for people exposed to the virus to reinforce their immune system with antioxidants, immuno-stimulants," Montagnier said.
Despite the lack of an effective drug treatment, Montagnier was relatively optimistic about the epidemic's development, arguing that there are many tools available for tracking and controlling its spread. He pointed out that there were "many more people who died from flu every year."