Who created the
HIV Virus? What
caused the
AIDS Pandemic?

As the world becomes
increasingly overburdened
with the AIDS scourge that
continues to advance with
unmatched tenacity, we
can attempt, in serenity
and knowledge gathered in
its origin and history, to
chart the causative factors
before it achieved its
epidemic status. The
historical narrative is to
some extent factual and
positivist and also rich in
causal explanations that
are hypothetical in nature.
In essence, such an
analysis illumines but not
predicts the present. The
emergence of AIDS marked
the beginning of era of
viral pestilences,
completely different from
the past classic pestilences
such as the influenza
epidemics. Its emergence
as a disease was
unpredicted and as an
epidemic it remained
largely unpredictable
under the old nosology
In summary, AIDS is
representative of the
emergence of post-modern
plagues. It is under such
an understanding that
AIDS is classified as a new
disease. Before the 1970s
AIDS was utterly
inconceivable. During
these times, diseases were
defined with regard to their
representations or
associated anatomical
lesions. AIDS could not be
defined by these basic
understandings of disease.
It was thus perceived as a
disorder that exhibited non
specific symptoms; it was
invisible and its causative
agent undetectable. It is
only until recently when
sophisticated analytical
methods were developed
that its detection became
commonplace in clinical
As a disease, AIDS is new
but it is not known for
how many years the virus
had existed under the
shadow of a host of
infectious diseases and
pathological conditions.
Around 1980, physicians
were astonished by an
existence of a disease that
seemed “new”. They
referred to the new illness
as knew because it could
not be explained by the
existent definitive
classifications of disease as
such they were forced to
rely on explanatory models
that were unknown in
epidemiology and classical
pathology. This initial
surprise was a product of
the discovery of new
category of diseases never
before recorded or
postulated in medical
theory. This discovery was
followed by other
unexpected and
disquieting findings: a new
plaque had once again
struck mankind and that
the intractable infection
was on an inexorable
spread, striking down the
afflicted even under
optimal therapy. As mass
hysteria skyrocketed, the
medical world disclosed
that the new plaque was
transmissible through sex,
blood and drugs.
As the 1980s neared its
terminus, the AIDS
pandemic had acquired a
variety of metaphors and
meanings. Physicians,
scientists and public health
authorities posited the
argument that AIDS was
just another epidemic of
infectious diseases and
that it was no more
different from epidemics
caused by other diseases.
Even though sections of
the scientific and public
health authorities warned
of the grave consequences
of the ignorance
associated with the
infection, their efforts were
not enough to contain the
epidemic. Additionally, as
the AIDS virus had
produced a wide variety of
attributions, meanings and
definitions, it was not
possible to offer a
conclusive preventive
The AIDS epidemic is
biological and biomedical
as well as cultural and
linguistic. The interaction of
these meanings on the
political, economic and
social contexts was the
cause of the confusions,
ignorance and lack of
interest in the management
of AIDS during the initial
infections. Given that these
infections were limited to a
specific section of the
community, it can be
argued that the inability of
the political class, the
scientific community and
the public health
authorities to prevent the
spread of the disease, due
to discrimination, laid the
foundation for the spread
of the epidemic to the
whole world.
There are various theories
and evidences that have
been presented to the
general public as well as in
the scientific forums. It is
certain that the
retroviruses having the
capability of causing AIDS
had existed in the
environment before the
AIDS pandemic shook the
world. To understand the
origin of these viruses, we
are bound to desist from
limiting ourselves to the
field of biology as there
exists complex intertwine
of social and biological
factors that may have
caused its origin. The
current pandemic is
attributable to two
superimposed epidemics
which may have been
triggered with two agents
that are distinct but
genetically related by an
indirect lineage. The initial
pandemic was largely
unknown but later
identified by American
doctors is believed to have
originated from American
soil. The second epidemic
believed to have been
caused by HIV-2 was
centred in West Africa.
HIV-1 began its spread in
three places; two in North
America and one in central
Africa. Whether the origin
of the American epidemic
and the African epidemic
are independent or
correlated have been a
matter of great
In 1969, in a Congressional
Hearing, there arose a
prediction that the military
could create a super germ
as a component of its
experimental bio warfare
program. On the basis of
new capabilities provided
by the advancement of
genetic engineering, the
program intended to
manufacture a super germ
capable of wiping out vast
populations. Additionally
the virus would be
constructed and
transmitted in a way that
the human race would be
powerless against its
debilitating capacities. On
the same program, the
Department of Defence
spokesman affirmed that,

“Within the next five to
ten years, it would be
possible to produce a
new infective micro
organism which could
differ in certain
important respects from
any known disease
causing organisms. Most
important of these is
that it might be
refractory to the
immunological and
therapeutic processes
upon which we depend
to maintain our relative
freedom from infectious
disease .” (Testimony given
before the Sub-Committee
of the House Committee
on Appropriations,
Department of Defence
Appropriations for 1970,
Washington, 1969).
Four years later (1973), a
epidemiologist; J.
Clemmesen while giving a
lecture to cancer
researchers revealed his
growing concern about the
transmission of cancer
causing viruses. His
concern was that in the
near future it may be
possible that the
transmission of these
cancer causing viruses may
led to a world cancer
epidemic. Clemmesen
visualized a situation
where a mutation of the
virus into highly contagious
variants could lead to a
pandemic of neoplastic
disease before an effective
vaccine was developed. In
direct reference to the top
secret biological warfare
weapons program and its
consequent disastrous
ramifications, he
challenged the imagination
of his audience by posing
a situation where some
nations could employ such
a virus to intimidate other
nations till they acceded to
their requests.
Just after a decade, these
predictions were proven
with the worldwide reality
of the AIDS pandemic. By
the 1985, 130 countries
had reported cases of
AIDS in their territories,
and as earlier predicted
every single nation on the
planet was under threat.
The World Health
Organization estimated
that an approximate total
number of ten million
people had been infected.
A world that had existed in
political discordance
suddenly realized that
there was need of a
collective international
effort to combat the crisis.
Thus, it is firmly held in
some quarters, that even
though the viruses may
have had a history of
existence in the
environment, the specific
strain responsible for the
AIDS virus is believed to
have originated from the
military laboratories. An
analysis of the time
difference between the
time of congressional
announcement and the
onset of AIDS pandemic
affirms a strong
connection. While the
beginning of AIDS may
have just been another
coincidence, it is important
to understand that prior to
the announcement; there
were no known cases of
AIDS epidemic. Moreover,
before 1980, the diagnostic
capabilities were too
inferior to effectively
neither identify nor
characterize the virus yet
after the epidemic broke
out, these techniques
suddenly became
commonplace. The
prophase of the epidemic
is disturbing as well as
astonishing owing to the
multitude of chronological
coincidences. For instance,
in 1978 when the technical
and conceptual means of
identifying and isolating
human retrovirus became
available, the epidemic
began its spread. To
assume that a random
mutation may have
occurred to warrant such a
coincidence is simply
Alternatively, between 1962
and 1982, a colony of
macaques (Macaca mulatta
and Macaca arctoides ) had
been decimated by four
epizootics. These
macaques were being used
in research at Davis in
California. Following the
appearance of the disease
these animals exhibited
immune depression and
malignant lymphomas
coupled to the
opportunistic infections. In
1981-1982 ; the duration of
the fourth epizootic, the
researchers connected
these symptoms to AIDS
creating an avalanche of
attraction to this new
disease by AIDS
researchers. The epizootic
was thus christened SAIDS
meaning Simian AIDS.
It is this connection that is
used to postulate the role
of monkeys in the origin of
the AIDS epidemic. In the
winter of 1982-83, the
researchers at the
California research centre
injected four healthy
macaques with the tissues
harvested from the
diseases macaques. The
infected macaques
developed generalized
lymph node enlargement
followed by the
opportunistic infections
after several weeks. One
macaque that had skin
lesions akin to Kaposi
sarcoma, the other two
died rapidly. When Murray
Gardner in collaboration
with his Davis colleagues
eventually isolated the
causative agent of the
epizootic, they found out
that it was SRV-1:
completely distinct from
In September 1984, Ronald
Desrosiers, M. D. Daniel,
Myron Essex in
collaboration with Harvard
University successfully
isolated a different agent
from a macaque infected
with SAIDS. When the
agent was analyzed, its
serological properties
almost matched those of
HTLV-III (an acronym
chosen despite the
absence of HTLV-II ). In
1987, a serological analysis
of the stored sera from
Davis colony macaques
that had succumbed to
SAIDS between the 1976
and 1978 yielded a
different strain, SIV. Since
the Davis colony of
macaques were captive
animals, it was not possible
to resolve on the source of
infection. The human AIDS
virus can only be
transmitted to chimpanzees
through laboratory
introduction of the virus
into the vagina or blood
stream. Infected chimps
then became seropositive,
carried the virus in their
circulation but showed no
symptomatic evidences of
clinical disturbance.
The captive macaques that
had succumbed to the
disease that resembled the
human AIDS had their
origins in Asia yet when
Myron Essex carried out a
random test of blood
samples from wild Asiatic
monkeys, no trace of SIV
was found. African chimps
and baboons were taken
through the same blood
sample test but the results
were negative.
Contrastingly, when green
monkeys (especially
Coerpithecus aethiops )
were taken through
serological analysis, SIV
antibodies were found to
be existent in their blood.
The seroprevalence ranged
between 30-70%. However,
some monkeys like
Coerocebus atys were
highly infected with SIV.
Several strains of the virus
were also isolated from
mangabeys, green
monkeys, mandrills and
Remarkably, all these
animals infected in the
natural environment
suffered no disease
symptoms that were
linkable to the viruses in
question. When these
viruses were injected in
macaques, these animals
suffered a chronic illness
similar to the nature of
illness suffered in a minor
form of human AIDS.
Ironically, viruses isolated
from these infected
macaques were more
virulent than strains that
had been injected in the
macaques initially.
Subsequent inoculation
into healthy macaques
elicited characteristic acute,
severe pathological
reactions. Additionally,
subsequent isolation from
macaques and inoculation
in mangabeys caused
sickness even though the
same mangabey is
naturally resistant to the
virus. The chronology of
experimented attested to
the fact the virulence HIV-I
can be potentiated in an
analogous process.
Since pathogenic viruses
don’t spring up ex nihilo,
they can not be entirely
new. They originate from
ancestors with similar
genetic characteristics.
They must also replicate
somewhere whether it is in
the human population or
in the animal population;
their replication in these
environments is
dependable on the
existence of a biological
equilibrium. The current
causative agents of AIDS
epidemic can not therefore
be attributable to any
recent origin of HIV-I and
HIV-II that may have been
caused by spontaneous or
parallel mutations in a
relatively short period of
time. With the
understanding recent
integrated data on animal
retroviruses that are
related, such mutations
can only occur over a
longer period of time and
even then successive
selection pressures highly
operate on a variable
genetic pool. Work done
on the evolutionary origins
of retroviruses affirms that
HTLVs are much closer to
BLV (Bovine Leukaemia
Virus) than it is to HIV or
SIV. Genetic analyses affirm
that AIDS virus is only
linked to lentivirus such as
the equine infectious
anaemia (EIAV) and visna
virus but not to the HTLV
species. Drawing from the
evolutionary tree, the
relationship between the
HTLV species and the
lentiviruses and AIDS virus,
dates back to pre-history .
It has been widely
established that the AIDS
virus could not have been
a parasite to man for so
many years before the
disease was discovered but
there are opinions that the
current epidemic could
have been caused by the
transfer of the viruses from
primates to man. Viral
infections not too
dissimilar to HIV-2 are
endemic among many
species of African primates
such as the green
monkeys. In Africa, these
monkeys are hunted,
handled with bare hands
and eaten. There are
instances where children
and monkeys have been
bitten by monkeys. To
explain the transmissibility
of these virus strains to
human beings, some
researchers have
presented evidence to the
fact that among some
tribes in Zaire,
consumption of raw
monkey brain was a
common practice. Thus,
there is no need to invoke
the possibility of sexual
contact between the
primates and human
beings. Moreover, there
are some unique sexual
customs practiced by some
tribes around the African
Great Lakes region where
men are injected on the
thighs with male monkey
blood and women with
female monkey blood to
either stimulate or arouse
intense sexual activity.
Under such customs, it is
not surprising that the
virus may have found its
way into the human
However, given the
duration in which AIDS has
existed as an infection of
human beings, such
postulations or evidence of
transmission do not
explain why the infections
could not have originated
earlier on among these
tribes. Owing to the
intensified trade in live
monkeys from West Africa
to Europe and the United
States for use in medical
experimentation and
biotechnology, some
authors attribute the
spread of the viruses to
the American population
as a consequence of
infection in the research
laboratories. In this case
the transmission in no
more different from the
transmission of the virus to
According to the simian
hypothesis put forward by
Phyllis Kanki and Myron
Essex, due to the fact that
the SIV is endemic among
many species of primates
in Africa, the same was
transmitted to an African
man in West Africa.
Subsequently, through viral
adaptation to new host,
the human AIDS virus was
formed. These hypotheses
fail to conclusively attest to
the causes of the current
AIDS pandemic. Moreover,
an association of the SIV
viruses and the AIDS
viruses can not hold as it
has been widely proven
that in the span of a few
years, no major mutations
would have occurred to
causes any similarity
between the two viruses.
An evolutionary analysis
and genetic analyses refute
such a hypothesis. On the
other hand a genetic
recombination may have
occurred between two
ancient viruses to generate
a new strain that was more
adaptable to the human
body somewhere in
Central Africa.
As to the origin of
transmission of the virus
from its probable origins to
the human body, the
matter remains as issue of
great controversy, what
have been agreed on are
patterns of initial spread.
Historians and researchers
agree that the epidemic
began its spread from
three distinct centres; two
are American primordial
areas (San Francisco/ Los
Angeles and New York/
Miami). Scholars also agree
that the origin of the virus
that led to the start of AIDS
epidemic in these areas
have a connection. This
was proven by the initial
confinement of the
epidemic among the gay
community. This feature of
the initial geographical
distribution of AIDS is
buttressed by the
prevalence of organized
group sex and drug abuse
in the gay community.
Controversy over the
connection between the
African origin of the
epidemic and the American
origin of the epidemic is
still unresolved.
It is prudent that the first
indications of the AIDS
epidemic be detailed. The
first warning of the
epidemic was reported in
1979, by a Los Angeles
physician; Joel Weisman,
who because of his
sympathy for homosexuals,
began noticing that there
had been an increase in
the number of patients
with a mononucleosis like
syndrome that was
characterized by weight
loss, hectic fever, and
swollen lymph nodes. The
patients were young men
originating from the cycle
of California’s growing gay
community. With
medication these patients
improved fitfully but failed
to fully recover from the
affliction. At first the
disease was diagnosed as
cytomegally as it had a
causal link with
cytomegalovirus. Serologic
tests proved that the
disease was mostly
concentrated to the
homosexual community.
Apart from the symptoms
characteristic of
cytomegalovirus, these
patients also had anal and
oral thrush, diarrhoea,
immune system deficiency,
weight loss and respiratory
diseases. At the same time,
the number of such
patients was increasing in
public hospitals across Los
Angeles. In New York,
these characteristic
symptoms were becoming
prevalent among the gay
community as well.
The recorded history of the
beginning of the AIDS
epidemic shows that the
political establishment, the
scientific and the medical
community failed to halt
the spread of AIDS. In the
early years of the disease,
AIDS infections were
limited to the gay
community. The
recognition of the
seriousness of the affliction
and the magnitude of its
spread as not limited to
the gay community but
these ramifications created
no increased interest in
prevention measures. In
fact it almost became a fact
that AIDS was a disease of
drug addicts and gays. It is
the overall ignorance
about the disease that has
led to the degree of AIDS
epidemic in the world
today. As men in San
Francisco, Los Angeles and
New Yolk City died in their
hundreds, their pleas for
assistance went unheeded
for over three years. Later
when AIDS began
benefiting from social,
political and economic
support, it had become
rooted in the community
and spread quickly despite
any efforts. To the current
modern societies, AIDS still
moves on, killing millions in
its wake.

By Richard Oduor; A
Biomedical Scientist,
Freelance Research

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First posted on THE GRAND DEBATE

courtesy of Storyzetu

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