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Borderland: Reflections on the Plague Years - Urban !!
REFLECTIONS ON THE PLAGUE YEARS
By Michael Urban, Ph.D.
AIDS. The most electrifying, terrifying, exaggerated, hyped,
misunderstood and misrepresented disease of modern time. By this late
date I would assume that almost everyone is familiar with the wide range
of personal and political responses that have been offered for public
consumption on "the problem of AIDS". Since this article is not written
for the purpose of selling a magazine, or a adding to an already
overblown campaign of national hysteria, I will happily dispense with
the usual grim warnings about casual couplings with partners that may be
the death of you. I will leave that to the esteemed Dr. Everett Koop,
our surgeon general.
Instead, I would like to review briefly the current status of both
conventional and unconventional beliefs about, and treatments of, this
most puzzling of afflictions.
ORIGINS OF AIDS
Theories regarding the origins of AIDS, a retrovirus, are abundant,
ranging from the nefarious CIA/WHO/NCI conspiracy theories, to Green
Monkeys, to God's Wrath against homosexuals, to laboratory accidents,
contaminated smallpox and/or Hepatitis B vaccines and of course, natural
evolution. Some of these are more compelling than others, while a few
require a rather remarkable ability to weave together circumstantial
information into a hair-raising scenario of communist world domination
through the agencies of WHO (the World Health Organization) and the NCI
(National Cancer Institute).
The latter makes for interesting fireside chats, and seems to sit well
with the followers of Lyndon La Rouche and those of similar persuasion,
but is seriously lacking in real evidence. What little support can be
marshalled for conspiracy theorists is largely a consequence of our
Government's abysmal history of using the American public as unwitting
participants in "experiments" of dubious scientific merit. A small
sampling includes the various "mind control" drug programs uncovered by
the Church Committee hearings of 1975 and 1976 such as BLUEBIRD,
ARTICHOKE, CHATTER, MK-ULTRA AND MK-NAOMI.
The violations of human and civil rights revealed through these hearings
were almost beyond belief and helped to expose additional abuses such as
the 1950 Army program in which turkey feathers infected with cereal rust
spores were released over a crop of oats to determine the feasibility of
using this method to initiate a cereal rust epidemic. Also in 1950, the
Navy sprayed a cloud of bacteria in San Fransisco to determine air-borne
dispersion patterns in biological warfare applications of this type.
While the Navy claimed that the bacillus used was harmless, there was
one death attributed to the exercise, and thousands of residents came
down with flu-like symptoms.
The list of "civilian" medical experiments is quite long, and includes
the exposure of unknowing victims to, among other things, Yellow fever,
Whooping cough, countless drugs and toxins, Plague, induction of Beri-
Beri and Pellegra, and exposure to dioxin, better known as Agent Orange.
There is a notable lack of informed consent by the subjects of these
However, for the purposes of this discussion, perhaps the most notorious
piece of dubious "science" was the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. This study
was undertaken by the U.S. Public Health Service, the predecessor of
today's Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 1932. The study monitored
the progress of untreated syphilis in 400 poor, uneducated Black men in
Tuskegee, Alabama. They were never told that they had the disease, and
were denied treatment until 1972, when an outraged worker stumbled onto
the still-ongoing study and finally blew the whistle. In the face of
nationwide condemnation of the project the CDC condoned the study for
being "appropriate for its time".
It is worth pointing out that the CDC director who approved continued
funding for this project in 1969, Dr. David Spencer, became the New York
City Health Commissioner, and a key player in AIDS policy in the early
1980's. In light of these previous excesses, one cannot lightly dismiss
the speculations of experimentation and cover-up as the mere ravings of
a lunatic fringe. The probability is quite high that the AIDS virus is
a mutant that was adapted for growth in human cell lines in virology
labs. Numerous articles in the medical literature have commented on the
genetic homology of the AIDS virus with the bovine leukemia virus,
bovine syncytial virus, and "maedi visna", a retrovirus that is endemic
to sheep. In virology circles this sort of genetic similarity is rarely
considered a coincidence, and in fact several very prestigious and
respected virologists have publicly stated that it is unlikely that the
AIDS virus could have arisen "de novo", or naturally.
Further compounding the possibility that this virus might be a
laboratory accident is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) thirty year
history of uncontrollable cell-line contamination. The notorious HeLa
cell, a particularly virulent cancer first isolated from a cervical
tumor, has contaminated virtually every experimental cancer cell culture
since the early 1950's. This, in face of the most stringent attempts at
isolation and sterilization known to man. I mention this only to
illustrate the possibility that the AIDS virus may be another famous
escapee from the test tubes of NCI. We really have no way of knowing,
and I doubt that the principles involved would volunteer information of
this nature if in fact it were true. Thus we are left with a nagging
question mark with respect to this particular issue.
So much for controversies regarding the origin of the virus. We know
the monkey isn't the culprit, we know it looks similar to some viruses
that people have been fooling around with in the lab, but other than
that there doesn't appear to be anything more useful to be gained by
inquiries in this vein. The fact is the virus is here, and regardless
of where it came from we have to do something about it...or do we?
DUESBERG CAUSES A RUCKUS
Peter Duesberg, the head of the Department of Molecular Biology at the
University of California Berkeley published a paper in Cancer Research
in March of 1987, that set the Medical community on its collective head.
Duesberg's article was an articulate, persuasive and scientifically
accurate demolition of the notion that the AIDS virus was in itself a
pathogen of sufficient virulence to explain the constellation of
symptoms that is AIDS.
Without getting too technical, the gist of the argument was that the so-
called AIDS virus violated all of the currently accepted tenets of
modern virology, including Koch's postulates, and as such could at best
be considered as no more than an indicator or co-factor in sera that may
Apart from the prodigious egos that were threatened by this article,
which to this day has not received a significant challenge and has not
in any way been discredited, the billions of dollars that had been
committed for research, not to mention jobs, reputations,
pharmaceuticals, etc., were now being challenged by a renegade scientist
with impeccable credentials. Virologists who were queried about
Duesberg's work responded with a variety of nonsensical replies, such as
"Oh, Peter's just being his cranky self", suggesting, I suppose, that a
21 page article with 278 references was written in a pique of irritation.
While all of the various and sundry debates about origin,
characterization and virulence of the virus were raging, people
continued to die with alarming regularity. The patient and the physician
were confronted with a seemingly insoluble problem. No one knew what
was going on, and conventional allopathic medicine did not seem to have
an answer. This situation quickly gave rise to an alternative medicine
underground which proceeded to try anything and everything as a possible
remedy. Moving much more quickly than the entrenched bureaucracy of the
FDA, CDC and other Government health agencies, victims of AIDS and
practitioners of alternative health modalities quickly struck an
alliance that gave rise to treatments that included: Azidothymidine,
Dideoxycytidine, Ribavirin, Dextran Sulphate, AL 721, DNCB, Isoprinosine,
Imuthiol, Aloe Vera, Monolaurin, Pentamidine, Alpha Interferon,
Cyclosporin, Interleukin 2, Naltrexone, Peptide T, Hydrogen Peroxide,
Ozone, and various Homeopathics, to name just a few of the major ones.
Additionally, naturopathic treatments including herbs, mushroom extracts
and nutritional supplements were tried and popularized in a book by
Laurence Badgley. Others, like Dr. Immanuel Revici, worked exclusively
on the lipid phase of the immune response.
And then, more off the beaten path were acupuncture, both traditional
and electro-, and the various electronic modalities such as the
accuscope/Myopulse, the Indumed, the Raythera, Radionics, the Lakhovsky
Multi-Wave Oscillator (of which useful versions are apparently
unavailable, in spite of claims for the junk being carried around in
briefcases), and the piece de resistance, a so-called Rife frequency
generator, which really does enormous discredit to the work of Royal R.
Rife, and should really be called the Crane frequency generator to
maintain historical accuracy. The evidence to date indicates that NONE
of the above are an effective cure for AIDS!!
Rumors are abundant. Testimonials about cures are everywhere. This
article is an attempt to put them into perspective. I have now been
working with AIDS patients for over seven years and have little patience
with the grandiose claims of individuals attempting to market a product
to individuals they have never seen, for a disease they do not
understand, with an instrument or product that they have not adequately
researched. To my knowledge, no one has ever been cured by a
testimonial. I have personally made available to my patients every one
of the remedies/devices listed above, and then some, including
substances banned by the FDA since the 1930's. Patients kept dying.
THE H FACTOR
It would be a great help if people who wanted to "cure AIDS" would do a
little homework once in a while. Go to your local Medical Library and
at least get familiar with Virology and with Epidemiology. Read about,
and try to understand what people like Lakhovsky and Rife were trying to
do, it really isn't so transparent that it can be understood in a single
reading. Take the time to understand how the immune system works.
Don't get your information from magazine digests or worse still, from TV
news. Do the work yourself.
Having voiced my gripe, I am happy to report that some people have been
doing their homework, notably Joan McKenna at the Institute for
Thermobaric Studies in Berkeley. In a recently published article based
on the medical histories of hundreds of AIDS victims in the Bay Area, Ms.
McKenna offers an entirely new and plausible scenario to the etiology of
AIDS, and one that squares nicely with what Peter Duesberg has been
saying all along. It appears that in individuals who are immune
suppressed, the serology tests for syphilis are useless. That is to say,
the AIDS virus makes a positive identification of syphilis almost
There have now been numerous reports in the medical literature of AIDS
patients with a KNOWN HISTORY of numerous syphilis infections having
negative serology for syphilis. This should not be possible. However,
if it is in fact true, then we would have to contemplate the possibility
of an epidemic not of AIDS, but of tertiary or late staging Syphilis
confounded by a novel co-factor, the AIDS virus.
This is not as implausible as it may appear at first glance. Consider
that in the early 1970's the formulation for Penicillin was changed from
an aqueous Penicillin, which has a half-life in the body of only several
hours at most, to Benzathine Penicillin which has a half-life of about
one week. The advantages of long-acting Penicillin are obvious,
particularly in the context of an office practice. Unfortunately, it
has only recently become clear that Benzathine Penicillin has one major
drawback, namely: it does not cross the blood-brain barrier. This means
that the treponeme responsible for syphilis can find a safe harbor in
which to lay dormant for many years: the brain and the inside of the
As is now well known, so-called AIDS dementia is one of the early
diagnostic indicators of AIDS. However, in a close reading of the
literature on the clinical diagnosis of neurosyphilis, late-staging or
tertiary syphilis, it becomes quite clear that one could just as easily
be reading the diagnostic criteria for AIDS. Moreover, it is now known,
and even the CDC concurs, that the time-honored treatment protocol of a
single injection of 2.4 Million Units of Benzathine Penicillin is NOT AN
ADEQUATE TREATMENT FOR SYPHILIS!
This suggests that since the 1970's all treatment for syphilis has been
in dosages of subclinical effectiveness. Bear in mind that most of the
physicians currently practicing medicine were going through medical
school at a time when most people believed that venereal diseases
including syphilis had been reduced to the status of minor irritations
which could be remedied with a single injection. Thus, few of the
present generation of M.D.'s have ever seen clinical cases of tertiary
syphilis. This is a very important point, since late syphilis is
difficult to diagnose even for an experienced pathologist. Consequently,
it may in fact be that what we are fighting is not AIDS, but in fact a
global epidemic of late staging syphilis due in part to the mistaken
belief in the efficacy of Benzathine Penicillin.
The gravity of this situation was recently underscored by a paper
published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, (1987; 107:492-495) in
which the authors present evidence of an AIDS patient with a Kaposi
Sarcoma who tested negative for syphilis on every serology test,
including the "gold-standard" FTA-ABS test, which is traditionally the
most sensitive test of last resort. It is a credit to the physicians
involved in this study that they followed through on their suspicions
regarding syphilitic involvement. Ultimately, only a skin biopsy of the
Kaposi lesion combined with a very specialized Warthin-Starry silver
staining technique, demonstrated the abundant presence of viable
spirochetes of syphilis in the tissue. It is important to fully
appreciate that the average physician would never go to these lengths to
make this diagnosis.
The emerging picture then is this: we have seriously underdiagnosed and
failed to identify late staging syphilis, which exists as a consequence
of undertreatment of the primary disease with a penicillin variant that
does not pass the blood-brain barrier, and we have almost total masking,
for reasons as yet unclear, of diagnostic serology for syphilis in AIDS
Because Syphilis itself is known to be one of the most potent of all
immune suppressing diseases, so potent in fact that both Kaposi's
Sarcoma and Pneumocystic Carinii were first diagnosed in syphilis
patients in the first half of this century. Since the AIDS patient does
not die of the AIDS virus, but rather of opportunistic infections as a
result of immune suppression it would seem to make good sense to
thoroughly investigate this issue of possible syphilis. This is
particularly true when working with the homosexual population, where the
medical histories of individuals typically show a 5-10 year history of
chronic inflammatory diseases, multiple incidence of syphilis, gonorrhea,
hepatitis, herpes, intestinal parasites, chronic drug use both
recreational and prescription, and a host of other diseases. Occam's
Razor applied to the scenario outlined above would make the search for
yet another etiological agent such as the AIDS virus superfluous.
The conditions for the disease we now call AIDS existed before we found
the virus. The only thing the "new" virus will do is fund billions of
dollars of unnecessary research into an unneeded product.
While at the present time treatment of AIDS with penicillin in this
country remains controversial, it is becoming the treatment of choice in
Europe, while here in the U.S., Dr. Stephen Caiazza of New York City is
having excellent results with this approach. In a personal
communication with me he indicated that prior to initiating penicillin
therapy he had been losing approximately 200 patients annually to AIDS.
Since initiating the treatment protocol for syphilis as suggested by Drs.
Walthaler and Dierig of West Germany, he has had only one death, while
doubling his patient load. Joan McKenna has indicated that M.D.'s in
the Bay Area are experiencing a similar remission of symptoms with the
protracted use of high doses of aqueous penicillin, which will pass the
Because of the professional embarrassment and lack of money to be made
by relabeling AIDS as tertiary syphilis or as its complication or co-
factor, the Medical Establishment has been dragging its feet in making
this information generally known. However, major medical journals,
including the AMA Journal (1987; article by Dr. Mary Guinan of the CDC)
are gradually beginning to publish this information. Whether the
elimination of syphilis will also eliminate the incidence of AIDS
remains to be fully demonstrated. It is however quite clear that the
best anti-viral will not save you in the presence of underlying syphilis.
We are presently beginning treatment of AIDS patients with penicillin
and are seeing encouraging results. Nevertheless, my own prognosis for
AIDS victims remains guarded as it is my impression that this is truly a
multi-factorial disease that requires treatment on many levels, not just
From the perspective of a worker in this field, I find it regrettable
that the predominant response by individuals and institutions of
virtually every belief and persuasion to an unknown problem or threat
like that of AIDS, is to "blame and shame". To me it makes little
difference if you blame homosexuals for their "godless behavior", a la
Jerry Falwell, or blame the World Health Organization, Dr. Robert Gallo
or the medical establishment, a line of reasoning that is currently
popular within the ranks of alternative medicine. Jerry Falwell's
foolishness needs no comment, but as an advocate of alternative health
care, I have to say that we have not done ourselves proud with this
The volumes of mis- and disinformation that has been bandied about with
respect to AIDS and other health problems by individuals simultaneously
claiming to have an inside track on both spiritual development and
technological expertise should be of great concern to anyone interested
in real progress and freedom.
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