Reprinted from The Weekly Dig (Boston, MA) March 2003
Is HIV a Sexually-Transmitted Virus?
New Studies Raise Questions, Particularly in Africa
By Liam Scheff
“These findings bolster the hypothesis that chronic malnutrition and other environmental factors, and not a sexually-transmitted virus, are the causes of weakened immunity in people diagnosed with AIDS defining illnesses.”
A new African AIDS study seriously challenges the widely accepted hypothesis that HIV is a sexually transmitted virus. The study, by Dr. David Gisselquist, et al, appeared in the International Journal of STD & AIDS, a peer-reviewed journal published by Britain's Royal Society of Medicine.
According to Gisselquist, "The idea that sex explains 90% of African HIV just doesn't fit the facts. We need to take a look at the alternate explanations, in particular, healthcare transmissions, which seem to fit a lot of facts," he told Reuters. Among the study's revelations: Sexual practices in areas with the highest rates of infection were no different than in those with low rates of infection; infants of HIV-negative mothers tested positive for HIV, as did individuals with no sexual exposure; and heterosexual couples in Africa were no more likely to transmit the virus to each other than their European and American counterparts.
Gisselquist maintains that contaminated needle injections and other unsafe medical practices could be the cause. But Dr. Chris Ouma, head of the Kenya charity ActionAid’s health programs disagrees: “The idea that dirty needles or blood transfusions are the main route for HIV transmission in Africa today flies in the face of experience on the ground. In Kenya, medical procedures have largely been made safe but still HIV infections continue to rise."
Surveys of sexual behavior in Africa show patterns nearly identical to North America and Europe where HIV infection rates are much lower, but where clean water, food and basic medical care are widely available.
This isn’t the first study to challenge the hypothesis that HIV is sexually transmitted. The 10-year Padian study (1997) observed sexually active couples in which one partner was HIV positive. The result: in 10 years, not one uninfected partner contracted HIV, even though all participants admitted to having sex without condoms. The study states, “We followed up 175 HIV-discordant couples over time, for a total of approximately 282 couple-years of follow up. The longest duration of follow-up was 12 visits (6 years). We observed no seroconversion [infection] after entry into the study."
In the three-year Stewart study (1985) not one male partner of HIV-positive women contracted HIV. Prostitution is not even listed as an HIV risk category by the CDC, because of the extremely low incidence of HIV transmission to clients who have no other risk factors (i.e. drug abuse).
These findings bolster the hypothesis of some AIDS scientists that chronic malnutrition and other environmental factors, and not a sexually-transmitted virus, are the causes of weakened immunity in people diagnosed with one of the nearly 30 AIDS-defining diseases (which vary from country to country).
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