Outsmarting the Cure

From the September-October 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

Today, 40 million people are estimated to be living with hiv or aids.

Although the overwhelming majority of these—95 percent—live in the developing world, the “developed” nations are also well-acquainted with this scourge. The total number of aids cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States up to June 2001 was 793,026. In the U.S. alone, well over 450,000 people have died from aids in the past 20 years. Globally, the number is approximately 3 million people for just the year 2001.

Since aids’ initial breakout, scientists have worked long and hard, aided by millions of dollars in research funds, to develop vaccines that have managed to, in some cases, slow the spread of the disease and allow aids patients to live longer and healthier lives. But the virus is proving that it can outsmart the best that science has been able to produce.

Harvard aids researcher Dr. Bruce Walker recently discovered that, for people already infected with hiv, “it is possible to become infected with a second strain of hiv, even a very closely related one” (National Review, Aug. 12; emphasis mine).

“This has, as one scientist put it, ‘shattering implications’ for the development of an aids vaccine. In plain terms, it means the hiv virus is so mutable and durable that the standard method of vaccine-making will almost certainly not work” (ibid.).

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed another grim aspect of this problem, showing that “More than one fifth of people recently infected in the United States and Canada with the virus that causes aids have strains that do not respond to some of the best antiviral medications …” (Contra Costa Times, Aug. 9).

The Times goes on to explain that “[I]t might seem to defy logic that patients could have a virus resistant to drugs they’ve never been exposed to. But hiv, like most viruses, adapts itself to defeat drugs used to fight it.

“The people in the most recent study likely contracted their virus from someone who had been treated for hiv in the past and stopped responding to some of the drugs. Anyone exposed to that strain will find it is now immune to those therapies” (ibid.).

Dr. Martin S. Hirsch, director of clinical aids research at Massachusetts General Hospital, stressed that “the unruly aids virus has succeeded at evolving and mutating every time scientists and drug makers have attempted to outwit it” (ibid.).

The picture is gloomy for any future prospect of controlling the pandemic. Only a return to God’s laws of morality and health will finally put an end to this plague.