Clearing up two Mbeki misconceptions

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An electron micrograph of the HIV virus
The image is an electron micrograph of HIV (coloured in green) budding from a lymphocyte. Taken by C. Goldsmith for the CDC, via Wikipedia.

There are two misconceptions by Mbeki and people defending him that I wish to debunk.

The first is that a virus can’t cause a syndrome. Not true. Infectious agents (germs such as viruses or bacteria) cause several syndromes. E.g. Ramsey Hunt Syndrome II is caused by Varicella zoster virus; Fitz-Hugh–Curtis syndrome is caused by gonorrhoea or chlamydia; Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is caused by HIV. See more examples.

The second nonsense is that HIV is a minor contributory factor to AIDS. There is a huge amount of data showing that nearly everyone with HIV, in the absence of treatment, progresses to AIDS. The biology of how HIV destroys the immune system, resulting in the diseases of the syndrome, is quite well understood. A tiny fraction of people (less than 1% in one very large study) with HIV known as elite controllers do not progress to AIDS, but there is evidence that HIV infection affects even their health.

Progression to AIDS happens irrespective of diet or other lifestyle factors, though these may influence speed of progression. Genetics (of both the virus and person) as well as age are important factors, but we can do nothing about these. Antiretroviral treatment is the one and only intervention we know of that consistently and predictably prevents the vast majority of people with HIV progressing to AIDS.


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