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AIDS and HIV: Connie Howard follows in Neville Hodgkinson’s footsteps

with 22 comments

Vue Weekly’s Connie Howard, who I took issue with here over her Jan 15th article urging “respect” for Christine Maggiore’s position on HIV and AIDS, has made some comments on this blog in response.

She also recently penned another article for Vue, in which she claims that:

One friend, who asked to remain nameless (for obvious reasons), tells me he has watched all but one of his HIV-positive friends die over the years—friends who did as they were told, who took their antiretroviral meds. He, also HIV-positive and so far refusing treatment, is alive and well… As my friend said, what set Christine Maggiore apart was her willingness to be unflinchingly realistic about the risks and toxicities of treatment, the unanswered questions and the potentially relatively lower risk of non-drug approaches. Does that not sound reasonable?

The implication of Howard’s piece seems to be that taking AIDS medications carries a grave health risk, while the dangers to those with HIV of refusing conventional treatment are “potentially relatively lower”. This is quite a big claim to make, as it appears to run counter to what the overwhelming majority of experts on AIDS believe, and could have serious impacts on public health if taken seriously.

Like the former Sunday Times medical correspondent Neville Hodgkinson (and the authors of Continuum Magazine), Howard’s argument centres on an HIV-positive individual who, she claims, remains in good health despite his refusal to take anti-retroviral medications, and has managed to outlive others who accepted conventional treatment.  Unlike Hodgkinson, Howard declines to give any identifiable details about the case, citing “obvious reasons”.

The risks of journalists basing a serious public health claim on an un-named, unverifiable source should also be “obvious”.

Jody Wells  – the seemingly-healthy HIV-positive medication refusnik presented in Hodgkinson’s article  – was dead within a few years of the piece being published.  So too, tragically, was Sylvie Cousseau, and many of the other cases cited in Continuum Magazine. Because these claimed counter-examples to the conventional science on AIDS and HIV were named, it was possible to verify the details, and follow what happened to them afterwards. But as the case presented by Howard is wholly anonymous, there is no way of independently checking the facts, whether Howard has reported them accurately, or even whether the person she cites actually exists.

22 Responses

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  1. Let’s go back to the basics.

    First of all, you didn’t really know “the denialists” who have died. So all your speculations about the cause of their deaths will be just that; speculations. Add to that the fact that AIDS is clinically indistinguishable from what would be an immune suppression without any “HIV”, and also the fact that the so called “HIV tests” have never really been scientifically verified. So what you’re left with when you try to use the deaths of the HIV/AIDS skeptics as evidence, is speculations based on speculations based on speculations…

    Basically it is scientifically irrelevant whether or not you can check Howard’s facts. If all the “HIV positive” HIV skeptics would seem to die from “AIDS” right now, this would still not settle anything about this debate. Simply because it is impossible to know what really caused them to die. What Howard does is nevertheless useful in my opinion -when she points out that such cases can exist- because it helps her readers be more open-minded about what drugs are about.

    The best thing that you can do if you really care about the public health is to do the research about the verifiable scientific arguments, instead of wasting everyone’s time with ridiculous things like this: http://richardwilsonauthor.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/david-crowe.jpg

    Sadun Kal

    February 12, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  2. Howard’s friend (imaginary or real) is clearly a denialist flag waver.

    Of all the people that I know who are living with HIV, two have died. One of them died at the age of thirty when he was hospitalised with pneumonia and was diagnosed with HIV whilst in the hospital. The other was a denialist who refused treatment up until the days before he died (pneumonia aged 38). All of the other people that I know that are HIV positive are on meds and doing spectacularly well. Funnily enough!

    “The vitriol delivered the way of both dissidents and the reporters telling the stories of the dissidents is a crime.”

    Sounds like Howard is suffering an acute case of Farbernoia. We have every right to call out crap journalism for what it is, Howard being as guilty as the rest of them.

    BSE

    February 12, 2009 at 7:18 pm

  3. Just to be clear, my friend isn’t imaginary, nor is he a denialist. He just couldn’t tolerate the meds, and has done very well without them. I’m glad that you know many who are doing well on their meds. But please don’t accuse me of suffering from any kind of paranoia; I have never once said anything about the cause of AIDS, just pointed out the not-as-well-known aspects to ARVs. And I do believe we should respect choice in treatment.

    Connie

    February 12, 2009 at 7:47 pm

  4. Connie,

    Don’t worry I was not calling you a denialist. I have read your two articles on the death of Christine Maggiore. I do think that they are spectacularly one sided, like the reporting style of many of the denialist journalists.

    Yes it is good that my friends are doing well. Of course they have to contend with the side effects of taking the meds but it is perfectly clear that if they do not take them then they will probably die sooner rather than later. Early diagnosis of HIV is the key to allow people to make as many treatment choices as possible.

    I know that as soon as my CD4 gets to the right level I will have a whole host of difficult decisions to make about going on treatment, and it is not a decision process that I look forward to or will take lightly.

    I have a question for you though. Have you actually done much reporting on HIV other than the two articles that I have read?

    With all due respect though:

    “The vitriol delivered the way of both dissidents and the reporters telling the stories of the dissidents is a crime.”

    Is a daft, knee jerk sentence. It is anything but a “crime.” If people publicly peddle pseudo-scientific beliefs (that are deadly) then vitriol is, in my very personal opinion, perfectly acceptable.

    BSE

    February 12, 2009 at 8:49 pm

  5. “It is a daft, knee jerk sentence,” and liberal use of “pseudo-science” comments anytime a challenging bit of information surfaces is exactly why I haven’t waded into this insane discussion before. (And the reason why this will likely be my exit.) The largest study published to date in 2006 found, among those treated with ARVs, “a negative impact on mortality rates.” (Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration. HIV treatment response and prognosis in Europe and North America in the first decade of highly active antiretroviral therapy: a collaborative analysis. Lancet 2006; 368:451-458.)

    Connie

    February 12, 2009 at 9:01 pm

  6. “Life expectancy in HIV-infected patients treated with combination antiretroviral therapy increased between 1996 and 2005, although there is considerable variability between subgroups of patients. The average number of years remaining to be lived at age 20 years was about two-thirds of that in the general population in these countries.”
    (Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration. Life expectancy of individuals on combination antiretroviral therapy in high-income countries: a collaborative analysis of 14 cohort studies. The Lancet, volume 372, Issue 9635 Pages 293 – 299, 26 July 2008)

    BSE

    February 12, 2009 at 9:26 pm

  7. that last bit should have been 2008…

    BSE

    February 12, 2009 at 9:26 pm

  8. BSE, this may interest you:

    http://cytotalk.blogspot.com/2008/02/inhibitors-do-more-than-inhibiting.html

    Hostility sucks by the way. Just saying…

    Sadun Kal

    February 12, 2009 at 11:25 pm

  9. Sadun, none of the scientific claims that you make appear to be supported by the peer-reviewed research done on this issue, and so far as I can tell, you are not a scientist or an AIDS researcher.

    BSE, many thanks for sharing your experiences. I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have known someone who’s died through the consequences of AIDS denial, and still see the issue trivialized by ill-informed and misleading journalism.

    Richard Wilson

    February 14, 2009 at 5:35 pm

  10. Pick one of my claims, point out what’s not supported according to you. Let’s exchange information and find out.

    Sadun Kal

    February 14, 2009 at 5:43 pm

  11. ““HIV tests” have never really been scientifically verified.” – ready, set, go!

    Richard Wilson

    February 14, 2009 at 6:50 pm

  12. Ok. But actually you should “go!”

    I’m pointing out to a lack of scientific evidence for a claim in this case. So if you insist otherwise, you should point out your scientific reference for your belief.

    Here’s what I think I know:

    HIV was never isolated/purified directly from anyone’s blood, it’s considered to be technically impossible and/or trivial. So “HIV” was never studied on its own isolated from the rest of molecular garbage. Studying a “molecular soup” and assuming you’re studying only a single type of molecular entity is problematic. There is no evidence that what’s considered proof for a specific type of retrovirus “HIV” (its “molecular signature”) is indeed specific to it, in fact there is evidence to the contrary; like the expression of this molecular signature from non-“HIV” entities.

    So when they give the impression that they verify the tests, what they do is to compare this molecular signature -assumed to be specific to their virus- to a positive test result.

    This isn’t really scientific.

    Some papers from the Perth Group talk about things like this. You can also check out the documents linked here: http://condeve.blogspot.com/2009/02/comprehensive-explanation-of-hivaids.html

    Sadun Kal

    February 14, 2009 at 7:29 pm

  13. “So when they give the impression that they verify the tests, what they do is to compare this molecular signature -assumed to be specific to their virus- to a positive test result.”

    And they tweak the tests until they give acceptably similar results of course. But “acceptable” is relative.

    Sadun Kal

    February 14, 2009 at 7:32 pm

  14. Connie, you clearly have not read the Lancet paper you cite. It has become a favorite among deniers because it is possible to quote-mine and misrepresent a sentence from the abstract. The paper is not an analysis of the impact of ART on mortality, it only follows people for a year (or two) after they start ART. The same authors have already shown that ART massively improves the survival of people with HIV, in papers like the one cited by BSE.

    What the paper does is compare the outcomes after a year of ART in separate cohorts enrolled in discrete time periods: 1995/96, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 & 2002/3.

    Here is what the data shows for mortality one year after starting ART in these cohorts:

    1995/96: total n=1232 / #deaths=27 (2.2%)
    1997: 4785 / 98 (2.1%)
    1998: 4583 / 85 (1.9%)
    1999: 3699 / 67 (1.8%)
    2000: 3203 / 63 (2.0%)
    2001: 2783 / 49 (1.8%)
    2002/3: 1932 / 25 (1.3%)

    They also included a supplemental analysis on the Lancet website with two years of follow-up:

    Two years after starting ART:

    1995/96: 1232 / 53 (4.3%)
    1997: 4785 / 151 (3.2%)
    1998: 4583 / 144 (3.1%)
    1999: 3699 / 109 (3.0%)
    2000: 3203 / 99 (3.1%)
    2001: 2783 / 69 (2.5%)

    As you can see, a very small proportion of people died, particularly given that a significant subset of these individuals initiated ART in advanced disease. In the later period, people started ART with lower CD4s on average, yet survival after two years was 97.5%. Also, note that fewer people died in the second year of ART than the first. So where your quote about a “negative impact on mortality rates” is coming from I have no idea – it’s certainly not from the paper (I checked).

    What the paper also shows is that – on average – the CD4 and viral load responses to ART after one year were significantly better in the more recent periods, whereas the change in mortality is not. But this is because very few people die in the first year of ART so a change from a mortality rare of 2.2% to 1.3% is not statistically significant! The biggest risk factor for dying in the first year of ART is advanced disease & low CD4 count at the time of starting ART. The fact that the AVERAGE viral load and CD4 count response to ART has improved in more recent cohorts cannot help reduce the risk of dying among the people in those cohorts who start ART with advanced disease.

    BD

    February 14, 2009 at 7:59 pm

  15. Sadun Kal, do you know whether people with HIV have any immune responses targeting the virus (or in your lingo: “molecular signature”) other than antibodies?

    BD

    February 14, 2009 at 8:16 pm

  16. I’m not aware of any. I’m not sure if the antibodies are even “targeting” the molecular signature either. Why did you ask?

    I wanted to add these to my earlier comments:

    http://hivskeptic.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/hivaids-and-parapsychology-science-or-pseudo-science/

    http://hivskeptic.wordpress.com/2008/07/22/science-studies-102-burden-of-proof-hivaids-%E2%80%9Cscience%E2%80%9D-pseudo-science/

    Sadun Kal

    February 15, 2009 at 5:08 pm

  17. “I’m not aware of any.” Classic. So you don’t know what a T cell response is, or how T cells respond to antigens. Yet you have the colossal arrogance to imagine you’re somehow doing something useful by tromping around the internet parroting claims of HIV deniers (claims you don’t understand yourself because of your ignorance).

    BD

    February 16, 2009 at 2:46 pm

  18. What does T cell response have anything to do with the non-existence of a gold standard for the test BD? Are you claiming that you can determine the presence of a virus by using the T cell response as a gold standard?

    The answer is no, so what’s your point with that ad hominem?

    Sadun Kal

    February 16, 2009 at 3:03 pm

  19. Besides obviously I disagree with the claims about “T cell response to HIV”, I posted a link above indicating that CD4 numbers or the drugs claimed to raise those numbers don’t have anything to do with any “HIV”.

    Sadun Kal

    February 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm

  20. I’m talking about specific T cell responses, but you obviously don’t know what that means so let’s try and start with some basics. Have you had chickenpox?

    BD

    February 16, 2009 at 6:20 pm

  21. Look BD, I’m pretty busy. Explain your case if you have one, -why it’s relevant, significant etc.- and I’ll consider your argument. I seriously don’t have time to play games right now. Sorry.

    Sadun Kal

    February 16, 2009 at 7:24 pm

  22. Actually, almost all chronic diseases are one since they are caused not by triggers but by the weakness of T-cells (cytotoxic – infections; NK – cancer; suppressors – allergies and related neurological conditions like CFS, ADHD, migraine and even autism. The book by a persecuted Canadian dr. proves this, so does the patenting of the drug he described under a different name Ceplene with a huge price tag! Go to http://www.thehistamineconnection.com and see the blogs and sites on the author.

    pasha

    February 2, 2011 at 6:55 pm


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