The AIDS Titanic

John P. Hegarty jph10 at psu.edu
Wed Jan 20 00:18:11 EST 1999

I forwarded a copy of this thread to an old college friend,
J.M. Billingsley, an AIDS researcher at Harvard.
He had the following comments:

> There was an early frightening jolt with AIDS, but we seem
> almost calm, class passengers) have little to worry about,
> if they follow the rules.

Right, well I agree that  is pretty much the case in the West. Since we know
how to prevent the transmission of the virus and have a culture that is
conducive to the application makes it a relatively easy thing to take care
of here. Furthermore the new therapies not only extend life but reduce
virulence on a population level. There are few people in the hospitals or
dying form AIDS in the West anymore. Of course that's not the real issue.
The epidemic is still exploding in the third world where the culture and
technology of prevention is largely unavailable. A tragedy will occur in the
third world on an unprecedented scale, and of course there will be a price
to pay for that morally and economically here as well.

> In the worst-case scenario, what is true for an individual host,
> could in a broader sense be true for the entire species.

Hey, all species become extinct eventually.

> You could try to fight back, if need be, with things like testing
> and quarantine.  Trouble is, you can't test for what you can no
> longer identify.

Assuming it remains a retrovirus,( hard to imagine it changing that much),
what we test for is the most conserved protein in HTLV viruses p24 so we'll
still be able to see it.

> The worst-case scenario is a species-destroying virus.

Oh, I don't know about that...

> It would be an almost poetic justice to the right-wing forces that at
> best did not care, or at worst actively conspired in bringing about
> the epidemic.


> There would also be a measure of justice to the many who
> turned a blind eye to the madness and misdeeds of the ruling powers
> that they had sanctioned.

Not everyone in the world gets to choose their leaders..


Reply post by Jay Mone':

> You raise some interesting points regarding mutations, but you need
> to remember that the number of ways an organism can change via mutations
> or other mechanisms is not unlimited.  Consider, for example,
> mutations in gp120.  Random mutations in this protein must retain the
> ability to bind to cellular receptors, while avoiding the immune
> response.  There are only a finite number of ways that this may be
> acheived.  This is why you see very few mutations in other proteins,
> such as p24.  It seems that there are very few ways to construct a
> viral capsid.
> For a virus to change the way it is transmitted, then, is not a
> simple matter.  Do you know of any virus which was transmitted by one
> and then has change to an entirely different one?
> The concern about HIV switching from a sexual route to a respiratory
> or vector route makes for good chit chat, but is completely without
> precedent as far as I know.  Even for a rapdily mutating virus, the
> constraints imposed during replication in the human host have not
> translated into any evidence suggesting that the virus is
> fundamentaly changing it's biology.
> Keep warm up on that iceburg, Tom.  Maybe some day we can rescue you.
> Jay Mone'

This guy's right.

billingj at helix.mgh.harvard.edu

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