Editorial: HIV Super Bug and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction

On Friday, February 11th, The New York City Health Department, with strong support from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Dr. David Ho, alarmed the public health world at a massive press conference announcing the "discovery" of a "super strain" of HIV.

The New York Health Department called it "a public health emergency." The CDC sent a press release around the country alerting all health departments about this "critical and urgent new information."

Here's a fact: The material they presented was actually partial results of a preliminary investigation of one case of a rarely transmitted strain of HIV possibly resistant to some drugs in three of the four classes of drugs used to treat HIV.

The direct result of this press release, backed up by the government, has been fear and calls for action against gays and people with HIV. Right winger radio hosts are even calling for quarantining people with HIV.

Here's another fact: This is NOT NEW NEWS. In 2001, The CDC sent out the following press release about a super-bug of HIV:

August 10, 2001

New HIV "Superbug" Emerges in Vancouver

Dr. Julio Montaner, a prominent Vancouver physician and chair of AIDS research at St. Paul's Hospital and the University of British Columbia, announced this week six cases of newly infected HIV patients whose strain of the virus is resistant to all three classes of HIV drugs.

"In a matter of months, these people have gone from totally asymptomatic to very low immune systems," Montaner said.

Montaner fears the two individuals could be the beginning of the spread of a multi-drug resistant "superbug."

The new "superbug" is as well documented as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The "superbug" is not new, not super, not widespread, not demonstrably increasing in number and certainly not an immediate crisis.

It is a type of virus written extensively about 7 years ago, rarely transmitted and the fact it is drug resistant is no surprise to anyone. According to Dr. Douglas Richmond of the University of California, San Diego, approximately 13% of new infections are multi-drug resistant.

There are better reasons for responsible state health departments to hold press conferences. Some reasons include:

  • Telling the public that President Bush ripped off $125 million from the effort to find an AIDS vaccine and spent it on an unneeded anthrax vaccine.

  • Alerting the public to the stupidity of forcing HIV prevention efforts to focus on abstinence and the failure of such efforts.

    But behaving in ways that undermine public confidence in the truth of public health warnings is utterly irresponsible. We expect better behavior from doctors and from our state health departments. They are supposed to be working on better ways to prevent HIV, finding cures and building vaccines, not joining terrorists in scaring us.

    David Scondras is the founder and chairman of Search For A Cure. Scondras developed the nationally recognized HIV treatment series, Reasons for Hope_. All articles in the series are reviewed by expert HIV doctors and scientists as well as an HIV positive and negative focus group to ensure both accuracy and understandability._