Last month the gay community in New York was warned about the possibility of a new strain of HIV which leads quickly to full-blown AIDS and death. The warning was issued after a gay man died within just a few months of being infected with HIV, or so it seemed.
The AIDS research centre at the Rockefeller University, where the patient had been treated, has just issued the full paper on the case, but it's one that raises just as many questions as answers.
At worst, the disease progressed in just four months, and, at best, it may have developed in 20 months, still a far shorter time period than usual HIV infection.
The problem is that the patient didn't know when he became infected. He reckons it occurred in October, but it could equally be the case that the disease remained dormant for some months. He had been regularly tested, and as recently as May 2003 he was showing no signs of infection. But last November he suffered fever, pharyngitis, weakness and fatigue for around a week before he recovered, although an intractable bout of sore throat, fatigue and malaise a few weeks later finally forced him to visit a doctor when he was diagnosed as HIV positive. That was last December. In November and December he had unprotected sex with about 10 different partners, and medical authorities in New York have been trying to track down these men. The man, who was in his late 40s, died last February.
So are we seeing the emergence of a new, superfast variant of HIV? Despite the hysterical headlines, there's no evidence for the claim. In the first place, the victim was a regular user of the recreational drug metamfetamine, and this could have accelerated the disease's progress. It's also unclear when the man contracted HIV in the first place. We also know very little about the nutritional status of the man, and whether he otherwise took care of himself.
It also seems strange that if indeed there is a new strain of HIV that more gay men have not been suffering a similarly accelerated decline.
We at What Doctors Don't Tell You also have problems with the whole HIV-AIDS link. Heresy we know, but we still think it's a lifestyle disease brought about after the immune system has completely broken down. Drugs like metamfetamine don't exactly help.