Backing Out of the HIV Story?

A few days ago I pointed out this odd HIV story that claimed a health crisis was brewing. People with HIV are not taking the drugs that claim to slow the disease and stop it from spreading. What was odd about this story was that it definitively stated that only a minority of those who were infected with HIV were doing anything to make it less contagious, but it didn’t make any claims that, as a result of this irresponsible behavior, the spread of HIV had increased.

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So I had to suggest: “Perhaps this story proves to us that the spread of AIDS through HIV has been exaggerated.”

I’m no health expert. But I often wonder, if HIV really causes AIDS and was as easily spread as people say, why anyone is left alive. Our problems with Ebola, for example, should have been far outdone by HIV, given what we have been told about infection rates in Africa.

So, now, as if on cue, only a few days later, we get another story about HIV. Healthday asks: “Is HIV Becoming Less Contagious?

New research in Africa suggests that the AIDS virus is getting smarter about evading the immune system while evolving into a less contagious and less lethal infection overall.

In the country of Botswana, at least, “anyone who is newly infected now with HIV is less likely to suffer disease than if they had been infected 20 or 30 years ago,” said study co-author Philip Goulder, a research immunologist with the University of Oxford in England. “If this process continues, HIV will cause less and less disease.”

The research has caveats. It relies on research from just two countries, both in Africa, and might not apply to the rest of the world. And some of its findings are based on mathematical models of how HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is evolving. Still, the study is “good news,” Goulder contended.

Thanks to natural selection, some viruses actually evolve to make the host less sick over time, Goulder explained.

“One might intuitively imagine that the most successful viruses are the ones that cause maximum disease and kill their hosts most rapidly,” Goulder said. “However, this is not necessarily the case, since if the hosts die quickly, the chances of the virus being transmitted reduce very rapidly. So, in fact, the most successful pathogens tend to be the ones that have evolved over time to cause very little disease.”

First of all, the Darwinian logic works for why the virus might become less deadly, but how does it follow that it would be less contagious. How easily it spreads and how often it kills are two different factors. By definition the more contagious versions of the virus should dominate over the less contagious.

Secondly, even though the model makes some sense, would that lead us to expect that there would be no deadly diseases by now after (allegedly) millions of years of life on earth?

Once again I have to wonder: Was the HIV-AIDS story overblown from the beginning? Is this a way to backtrack without acknowledging that we were being lied to?