It's been recurrent when I hear people saying that AIDS doesn't exist. When I ask why, they give weird reasons like HIV is a virus created to control economy and to develop medicine, etc. Also when I try to watch videos on youtube about people that are infected with this virus, I see a lot of comments saying that AIDS is a lie and some of them base their opinions on a documentary called House of Numbers. So I would like to know scientific reasons if this a myth, or why this is true.

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    $\begingroup$ Ultimately I suspect that those people are just terrified of getting HIV, so they invent or accept these conspiracy theories in order to not lose the one thing in their lives that can make them happy. There's nothing scientific about it. $\endgroup$ – jimbotron Jul 8 '13 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ Well, the fact that there is an ENORMOUS amount of scientific evidence in favour of the fact that HIV is the pathogenic agent causing AIDS and that there is zero proof of the contrary seems to be a good starting point... Anyway this has been discussed here: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/10435/… Now, the reasons why a restrict amount of (delusional) people say the contrary are probably that they do not really understand how immunology works, but feel like they should have a say on it anyway. $\endgroup$ – nico Jul 8 '13 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ @nico - despite people's efforts to the contrary, science is not a democracy (see the global warming "debate"). Just because a lot of people have an opinion doesn't mean it's right, or even deserves to be seriously discussed... $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jul 8 '13 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ @MattDMo: I am not speaking of opinions. I am speaking of a large amount of scientific literature. Surely, in science you can never say something is true, but the current body of knowledge (see the large amount of refs in the Skeptics.SE link or this NIAID page) is in support of the current theory. So, until proof of conspiracy arise, or until a better explanation of the current experimental data is found, we can say HIV causes AIDS. $\endgroup$ – nico Jul 8 '13 at 17:35
  • $\begingroup$ @nico - I completely agree with you - I was more speaking to the OP's mention of "opinions" $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jul 8 '13 at 19:23

I think no one can really deny the existence of HIV or AIDS, just a search on google scholar will show >1,500,000 hits for each of those terms, and ask (hopefully any) doctor and they will say it does, though AIDS denialists do debate whether HIV causes AIDS. This paper explains the process of HIV causing AIDS. Further, AIDS denialists have not offered up well supported alternatives as to how AIDS arises without HIV being involved.

I think however that there is more debate fuelled by conspiracy theorists as to how the disease came about. This article from TIME magazine on conspiracy theories is a short piece about it, there are two main conspiracy theories:

1) The west invented the disease to "decimate the African population."

2) The US government invented the disease in the 70's and injected gay men to stop the spread of homosexuality.

You should read this section on the critical response to the film House of Numbers, it seems to be thought that the film was driven by funding wishing to promote conspiracy theory and interviews were edited in such a way as to help portray that message.

Caution, the following is my own personal opinion ;)

To most these seem like pretty outlandish claims and most people do ignore them - apart from anything, placing blame on someone won't stop the continuing spread of this horrendously devastating disease so the conspiracies are quite pointless. I personally think these conspiracies are driven by the uneducated, the scared, and those who want to "bring down the man & corporate/capitalist western society led by a powerful minority" etc..

Back to the science: The people who discovered the disease (Dr. Robert Gallo of the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Luc Montagnier of the Pasteur Institute in Paris) along with the majority of the scientific community say:

"the virus jumped from monkeys to humans some time during the 1930s"

Molecular analysis of the genetic sequence for the virus supports the theory that the jump from apes to humans was around 1920-1930. Some other studies support the jump being made around this time though some estimate it to be a little earlier, this is due to estimated rates of mutation being used to calibrate molecular clocks.

I recommend taking a look at AIDStruth.org and more specifically start with this page (thanks for the link @MattDMo) if you have watched House of Numbers.

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    $\begingroup$ I seem to recall hearing recently that the jump could have been as early as the late 1800s, I just wish I could remember where. Knowing my viewing/listening habits, it was probably NPR/PBS... $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jul 8 '13 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ @MattDMo There are a few papers which show it generally to be around the late 1800's-early 1900's. The uncertainty comes from the model used I believe, to do with rates of mutation and calibration of the molecular clock. $\endgroup$ – rg255 Jul 8 '13 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ OK, thanks, I'll look into it further. BTW, you might want to link to this page on aidstruth.org which specifically refutes "House of Numbers" and many of the denialist claims it makes. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Jul 8 '13 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ @GriffinEvo Thank you so much for all the references and the information. I've never been interested in biology at all but now these sort of "existencial" questions arise quite often in my head. In the overall I can deduce then that people is being mislead and confused for some reason. In my case, as an ordinary person, meaning I have almost no information about these sort of things, this documentary makes me feel totally confused and sad about manipulation of science, the government and the economical system in general. $\endgroup$ – Daniela Diaz Jul 8 '13 at 23:02
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately there are definitely people who can deny it and believe it wholeheartedly. Christine Maggiore is a good example. She had AIDS, transmitted it to her infant daughter via breastfeeding, refused proper treatment for her daughter (which led to the daughter's death) then refused proper treatment for herself, ultimately leading to her own death. It's sad, but there genuinely are people who absolutely believe that HIV/AIDS isn't real. $\endgroup$ – Jason Patterson Nov 2 '14 at 2:12

I'm not sure if I should be posting this as an answer, but I think a very approachable and accurate account of the history of HIV can be found from Dinis de Sousa et al.. I agree with what has been posted above. On the theory that a picture is worth a thousands words, you might also introduce skeptics to the cryo-electron microscopy images of the virus (searching cryo-EM HIV will pull up plenty).

That said, hard skeptics would likely want discount the thousands of publications, studies, and plain old researchers who have studied the virus (myself included).

Also, for the record, viruses that are "created" by humans artificially in a lab do exist, practically by definition. I, and a great many others, make viruses with markers that make them easier to measure or see (such as fluorescent proteins). But given the time that HIV entered humanity, it seems highly unlikely that anyone had the technology, let alone the will, to engineer the virus as a bioweapon. Certainly SIV predates HIV, but the technology to make such modifications (or even of the basic players and genetics) to make a recombinant/chimeric virus simply didn't exist.

It is the unfortunate truth that viruses have been used as weapons of terror and warfare against various populations (I could get into examples but that seems off topic). But the historical examples we have of this are all surrounding existing viruses.

To the question of people made to make money (not withstanding all of the above), it is certainly not for lack of trying that we don't have an vaccine for HIV. There are a lot of complications (extremely rapid mutation and escape mutants, reservoirs of virus, direct infection of cells from your immune system, etc etc). And it shouldn't be seen as though HIV is the long lasting human virus we need a vaccine for (Herpes and RSV just two good examples). You would stand to make a lot of money if you could successfully make a vaccine to any of the pathogens. And a LOT of people are trying. The US government alone is spending a lot of money on HIV/AIDS. Having a successful vaccine could actually SAVE a good deal of money.


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