Health

A contrarian on AIDS

Could a common herpes virus be the real villain?

Mark Nichols April 10 2000
Health

A contrarian on AIDS

Could a common herpes virus be the real villain?

Mark Nichols April 10 2000

A contrarian on AIDS

Could a common herpes virus be the real villain?

Over the years, reporter Nicholas Regush has honed a bare-knuckles style of journalism and a penchant for attacking mainstream medical beliefs. A former Montreal Gazette reporter, Regush since 1993 has been a producer for ABC News in New York City and an outspoken Internet columnist on the network’s Web site. He has tackled issues ranging from physician overprescription of the drug Ritalin for attention deficit disorder in children (“an epidemic of dumb doctoring and child abuse”) to the medical establishment’s hostility to critics (challenge “the prevailing medical wisdom and expect to get shot in the knees”). In his newly published The Virus Within,

Regush takes on the mainstream dogma that HIV causes AIDS and presents evidence that another virus, which lies dormant in most North Americans, may be the real villain. Predictably, the book has provoked a bitter counterattack. “I think Regush is the equivalent of a murderer,” said Mark Wainberg, a Montreal AIDS researcher and president of the International AIDS Society. “There are people who will be taken in by his half-truths and may die of AIDS as a result.”

In Virus, Regush draws on the work of a disparate collection of researchers working on the fringes of mainstream medicine. The cast of characters includes Peter Duesberg, a microbiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who argues that recreational drugs and the powerful anti-viral remedies used to treat AIDS in fact cause the disease, and a group of scientists in Perth, Australia, who question the existence of HIV, maintaining the

virus has never been isolated and photographed according to accepted scientific guidelines.

But the main focus is on Donald Carrigan and Konnie Knox, Milwaukeebased researchers who in the late 1980s began studying an infectious agent called HHV-6. A member of the herpes family, HHV-6 is carried by an estimated 90 per cent of North Americans. But apart from

triggering a sometimes fatal childhood illness called roseola, HHV-6 had long been considered largely harmless. The Milwaukee researchers began uncovering unsettling evidence. Carrigan found that HHV-6 can set off dangerous infections in cancer patients who undergo bonemarrow transplants, and with Knox, discovered evidence that the virus may be to blame for the destruction of the nerveinsulating material myelin in multiple sclerosis victims. Work by other researchers has suggested HHV-6 could be a factor in the controversial malady known as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Carrigan and Knox, meanwhile, were pursuing a theory that had been considered, and rejected, by researchers earlier—that HHV-6 might be a “cofactor” in AIDS, aiding and abetting HIV in the destruction of victims’ immune functions. Soon, Regush relates, Knox was wondering, “was HIV doing any killing, or was HHV-6 the lone assassin?” But in 1997, after Carrigan and Knox found evidence suggesting HHV-6 might be killing alone, the British medical journal The Lancet rejected their paper for publication.

Ranging deeper into uncharted medical territory, Regush puts forward a theory advanced by Howard Urnovitz, a maverick, Berkeley-based microbiologist. Urnovitz thinks some environmental toxins or viruses may be capable not only of inflicting direct damage on human bodies but of reactivating dormant pathogens like HHV-6. The combined assault somehow brings about a genetic “reshuffling” that creates new DNA sequences which can trigger cancer, or at other times, prompt the immune system to begin attacking the body it is supposed to defend. There is a frightening possibility, claims Regush, “that a major disease lurks inside the body, waiting to erupt because of the interplay of viruses that live within us.”

As Regush well knows, the theories he describes are not likely to win support in orthodox medical circles. Contrarian arguments, says Kelly MacDonald, a Toronto microbiologist who researches HIV, “may seem to make sense until you consider the weight of evidence that says HIV causes AIDS.” Wainberg, who has clashed with Regush in the past over AIDS, is less diplomatic. “As far as I’m concerned,” Wainberg told Macleans, “Regush is a journalist who preys on a gullible public. There is no question that HIV is the cause of AIDS.” Still, Regush’s book may be less incendiary than Wainberg supposes, since in the end he does not make a convincing case that something other than HIV is behind the plague that has destroyed so many lives.

Mark Nichols