Letter to Star-Ledger
Letter concerning The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS
Submitted to the Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
As author of "The River - a Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS" [Little, Brown, 1999], I would like to make a few comments about, and corrections to, Carol Ann Campbell's otherwise excellent article "AIDS Jersey Roots Explored", published on December 26, 1999.
Firstly, James Oleske's "Patient No. 6", the New Jersey girl who was born in 1973-4, developed AIDS soon after, and who died in 1979, and her mother (born in 1956-8), would, according to my hypothesis, not merely be "among the first documented cases of AIDS in America", but the first two documented cases. (A mooted early AIDS case involving a St Louis teenager who died in 1969 is now widely discredited.)
It is worth noting that alone of the ten known sub-types of HIV-1, the Euro-American strain (sub-type B) was never recorded in Africa until sporadic cases began appearing in the nineties, comparatively late in the global pandemic. By this stage, however, sub-type B had caused over 90% of the millions of HIV infections seen in the Americas, Europe and Australasia, suggesting that the belated African infections were actually imported from the West. The disciples of "natural transfer", who believe that the AIDS epidemic began after a African hunter became infected with an immunodeficiency virus after butchering - and coming into contact with the blood of - a chimpanzee, are hard pressed to explain how sub-type B, and only subtype B, could have emerged first in America, and not in the natural hearth of Africa.
It is my belief that the aforesaid New Jersey mother may have become infected with the chimp virus which is the immediate ancestor of HIV-1 through one of the experimental batches of CHAT oral polio vaccine that were administered to infants at Clinton State Farms, a New Jersey women's prison, in the late fifties. (This vaccine was originally developed by Dr Hilary Koprowski of the Wistar Institute, but some 70% of the million CHAT doses that were "fed" in Africa were actually produced in Belgium. In "The River", I propose that some batches of CHAT vaccine may have been prepared in an unusual tissue culture derived from chimpanzee kidneys.) The New Jersey mother (who was recorded as being a promiscuous drug-injector) could, I believe, have been infected with the chimp virus directly, or indirectly - through having sex, or sharing needles, with a CHAT vaccinee.
To my knowledge, the CHAT oral polio vaccine theory is the only hypothesis of origin that can readily explain the emergence of HIV-1 subtype B in America.
It is important to emphasise that although different versions of CHAT vaccine were tested at Clinton, the prison was not the only place in the US where the vaccine was administered. At various times, CHAT was also given to some 850 "indigent" persons from central Philadelphia, to several dozen premature babies at Philadelphia General Hospital, and to eighteen families from the dormitory suburb of Moorestown, New Jersey. Clinton, however, was the only place in the US where, from 1956 onwards, all of Dr Koprowski's experimental polio vaccines (and different pools of those vaccines) were tested.
Dr Koprowski claims that CHAT vaccine was given at Clinton to protect the prisoners' infants from polio, and not as an experiment. The first part of his claim is sound, but his scientific papers of the time make it quite clear that different aspects of the performance of CHAT were being experimentally tested at the prison.
As for the African CHAT trials, Ms Campbell correctly reports that "many of the earliest documented cases of AIDS in Africa occurred in the towns where the vaccine was tested, or within 175 miles of those towns". To be more specific, 64% of the earliest cases of AIDS in all of Africa (through 1980) came from the same towns in the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda where CHAT had been administered between 1957 and 1960. Furthermore, 45 of the earliest proven cases of HIV-1 infection in Africa (through 1980) came from towns or villages where CHAT had previously been given, or from places within 90 miles of same.
Finally, Dr James Oleske, the celebrated AIDS pediatrician from Newark, is mistaken when he states that "he examined a list of Clinton babies given him by Hooper, and none of the last names matched the name of the mother of Patient No. 6". When I last interviewed him, in 1993, I did not even possess the surnames of the Clinton mothers and babies, and I have not sent him these details since. At that meeting, I asked Dr Oleske if he would be willing to check the Christian names of the mother of his patient against those of the Clinton babies (an approach that would not have compromised his patient's confidentiality). Dr Oleske promised that he would take advice on this and get back to me, but despite reminders, he never informed me of his decision.
Dr Oleske implies that he would now be willing to consider "turning over information about the case to objective scientists who would protect the confidentiality of the patients". I would welcome such a move and would gladly cooperate with it, and I hereby invite Dr Oleske to contact me via the editor of this newspaper. Of course, there is also the potential of valuable follow-up. If there is merit to my hypothesis, then a blood sample from either mother or daughter might provide important information about the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in the US, and about how HIV becomes pathogenic.
One last point - just in case any of your readers might like to buy the book, or order it from a library. I am neither David Hooper, as proposed in Ms Campbell's article, nor Edward Hopper, as artistically portrayed in your correction, but the rather more prosaic - yet sincerely yours,