3 min

A trojan horse of a dissenter

Nicholas Regush isn't really writing about herpes

I have one reservation about Nicholas Regush’s new book The Virus Within: The Coming Epidemic. Regush misrepresents himself.

He has clearly packaged the book to be a scientific mystery story like And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts. The very readable Shilts managed to brutally transform the very real tragedy of AIDS into a thrilling piece of sensational fiction that rivaled Jackie Collins.

But Regush’s book (thankfully) is no thriller. It is really a history of the AIDS dissidence movement and, for that reason, is a must-read.

If you haven’t heard of the AIDS dissidence movement – it all started in 1986 with the much maligned Dr Peter Duesberg challenging the notion that HIV=AIDS. The movement has recently been revitalized by Dr Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and the Perth Group of Australia who challenge the validity of the HIV test, since they assert that HIV has never been properly isolated.

Now ostensibly, Regush’s book does not focus on AIDS dissidence, but instead on the drama of two lowly researchers: Konnie Knox and Donald Carrigan. One of his early chapters ends with the tantalizing sentence, “Few were ready for such a journey as Donald Carrigan.” And yet Regush only briefly characterizes the lives of his two heroes, summing one important period of Carrigan’s life like this: “Soon after his first paper was published, his personal life began to fall apart. His marriage went sour, ending in divorce. He became depressed. He grew disenchanted with the measles research.” Hardly compelling.

What Regush covers thoroughly and passionately, however, is the real topic of this book. Namely, that Knox and Carrigan have developed a theory that HHV-6 (a herpes virus) is a co-factor, along with HIV, in the cause of AIDS.

I think Regush is someone who doesn’t believe that HIV causes AIDS. As he said in his recent talk in Toronto, “Nowhere in this book do I say HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, but you may read it and draw your own conclusions.”

I think that rather than focus on the hot controversy around HIV, he safely hangs his book on the so-called story of two underfunded and much beleaguered scientists. But what Regush tells us about Knox and Carrigan’s theories is fascinating.

I’m no scientist, and I personally don’t know whether HIV is the sole cause of AIDS, or if the herpes virus (or anything else) is a co-factor. But Regush’s intrepid scientists make a persuasive claim that HHV-6 is more virulent at killing cells than HIV and may also be the cause of multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Perhaps most radical of all, Regush suggests that we look at disease in a different way; that the culprits of different diseases may lie dormant in all of us, and when re-awakened, cause serious harm.

One can’t really blame Regush for disguising his history of AIDS dissidence. If he had written a book openly devoted to the idea that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, he might very well have never seen it published.

What is it about those who challenge the idea of the HIV=AIDS hypothesis that leaves the challenger open to accusations of Holocaust denial?

I think it’s because people are emotionally exhausted with grief over the many in our community who have died so tragically. It seems that dissidents are suggesting that people have died for no reason. But are they? Discovering co-factors for HIV has only scientific consequences, possibly for the better. The existence of co-factors certainly doesn’t deny the dignity of those who have died.

I also think that most people are also (quite logically) afraid of sexually transmitted diseases. And they fear that challenging the HIV/AIDS hypothesis may lead some to abandon condoms. But questioning the power of the HIV virus does not mean denying the existence of sexually transmitted diseases altogether. One assumption does not follow the other.

The Virus Within makes it evident that the world of scientific research is not open, honest and communicative. Instead, it is deeply competitive and money-hungry. Scientists would clearly scratch out each other’s eyes to get at the very limited pots of money available. Thus ideas which threaten the status quo (like those which challenge HIV) are given no credibility, and little opportunity for funding or publication.

But for those who can momentarily put aside their fear and revulsion of AIDS dissidence and look at this world of blinkered science, Regush’s book is a lucid history, as well as a welcome and fascinating update, of the latest and most radical theories on health and disease.

The Virus Within: A Coming Epidemic.

By Nicholas Regush.

Viking Penguin.

352 pages. $34.99.