On the 30th anniversary of a controversial press conference trumpeting the discovery of HIV, one of the virus’ co-discoverers, Dr. Robert Gallo, says we’re not likely to ever cure AIDS
On April 23, 1984, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret Heckler called a press conference to make a stunning announcement: Hoarse from laryngitis, the Reagan appointee spoke for less than a minute but her words sparked an international firestorm: “The probable cause of AIDS has been found: a variant of a known human cancer virus,” she said.
The data on which she based her statement hadn’t yet been published, which was unusual in scientific circles. But this was 1984, three years after the mysterious and fast-moving Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was first described, and the pressure—from public health officials, the scientific community and from patients—to find the thing responsible could excuse some shortcuts to the glacially paced process of scientific publishing. At the time, more than 4,100 people had been diagnosed with the newly identified disease; every day, 20 new cases were logged by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and 1,807 had already died of AIDS.
Finding the culprit responsible, then, should have been something to celebrate. Except that not everyone agreed that Heckler was heralding the right guy. She credited National Cancer Institute scientist Dr. Robert Gallo with the discovery of HTLV-III, which he was confident caused AIDS. Heckler said Gallo was also to thank for figuring out how to grow the virus, making possible a blood test for detecting it.
But in the previous year, Pasteur Institute virologist Dr. Luc Montaigner and his colleagues had published a paper describing another candidate, a virus he called lymphadenopathy virus (LAV). Gallo and Montaigner, who knew of each other’s work, believed that HTLV-III and LAV were related strains of the same virus, and in March 1984, they agreed to make a joint announcement introducing the world to the related strains of the virus responsible for causing AIDS. That changed when the New York Times published an article quoting CDC director Dr. James Mason saying that Montaigner had identified the cause of AIDS as LAV.
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Unwilling to lose ground in the high stakes race to find the cause of AIDS, Heckler called the press conference to highlight the efforts that scientists under her charge had made. “I told the French group we would announce together, so I was excessively nervous,” says Gallo of the now-legendary press conference. But he didn’t have much of a choice; Heckler asked him to fly in from a scientific conference he was attending in Italy to contribute to the announcement. “Do I wish there [hadn't been] a press conference? Of course,” he says. (Attempts to reach Montaigner several times were unsuccessful.)
At the time, Gallo had 48 isolates of HTLV-III from AIDS patients, while the French had one of their LAV. Gallo also had been able to coax four of the isolates to grow robustly in the lab, which was essential for developing a blood test to identify the virus and, later, for testing drugs designed to thwart infection. In a handout to bolster her brief statement, Heckler mentioned the French contribution – as a “collaboration.”
That June, Montaigner and Gallo finally held their joint press conference to announce that HTLV-III and LAV were most likely one and the same virus. But the damage had already been done; with a patent and commercial rights at stake, the French government sued the U.S. in 1985, claiming Montaigner had identified LAV first, and developed a test to detect antibodies made against the virus. It took the White House to resolve the dispute two years later; President Reagan and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac announced an agreement in which Montaigner and Gallo would be recognized as the co-discoverers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Even world leaders, however, couldn’t truly put the matter to rest. Montaigner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2008 along with Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, a Pasteur Institute colleague, for “their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.” Gallo was not mentioned.
“I was surprised, and yes, I was disappointed, but I congratulated them,” Gallo says of being overlooked.
In the years since, Gallo has continued to work on retroviruses, the family to which HIV belongs, and now believes that it won’t be possible to completely cure HIV. Advances in drug treatments that interfere with the virus’ ability to infect and reproduce in healthy cells have dramatically reduced the deaths from infection – in fact, most public health experts rarely use the term AIDS, which refers to the full-blown, advanced stages of the disease, and talk more about HIV infection. And in recent years, exciting studies showing that using the same drugs that can treat HIV, but giving them to healthy, uninfected people who are at high risk of getting infected, can block the virus from invading their cells at all. They’re enough to get experts, including executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, talking about bringing new infections down to zero, and eliminating deaths from HIV as well.
“Do I think [UNAIDS] will end the epidemic? No, I don’t; I think we’d be kidding ourselves,” says Gallo. Until an effective vaccine is developed that can protect people completely from becoming infected with HIV, he says, we can only talk about functional cures — getting people who are infected with HIV to the point where the virus remains at undetectably low levels – and unable to become activated again.
That seems to be the case with two young children, born to HIV positive mothers, who are the first to be functionally cured of HIV after receiving powerful antiviral drugs in adult doses within hours of birth. “We will never replace active immunization,” he says. “But using [antiviral] drugs [to prevent infection] could be an important intermediary step to controlling the epidemic.” For some, that step may be disappointingly small for a 30-year effort. But for those living with HIV today, it’s a giant one toward keeping them alive.
It looks like powdered alcohol is no longer approved, but we're still wondering how it's made
The Internet was in a tizzy yesterday over what appeared to be the approval of powdered alcohol, which had the potential to be added to water or food, or snorted.
But if it sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is—for now. The labels for the powdered alcohol, branded “Palcohol,” were approved in error, and the product’s label approval was rescinded yesterday by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The company that makes Palcohol, Lipsmark, had this to say on its site: “We have been in touch with the TTB and there seemed to be a discrepancy on…how much powder is in the bag. There was a mutual agreement for us to surrender the labels. This doesn’t mean that Palcohol isn’t approved. It just means that these labels aren’t approved. We will re-submit.”
So while it appears powdered alcohol’s move to market has been stalled, we’re still scratching our heads: Considering how quickly liquid alcohol evaporates, do you make it powdered?
Palcohol, it turns out, is not the first attempt at a powdered alcohol. According to patent data, General Foods Corporation (now a subsidiary of Kraft) patented a couple of ways to make “alcohol-containing powder” in the early 1970s. In their process, they took a carbohydrate and broke it down through a process called hydrolysis, rendering it into a white powder. According to John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists, they then combined that powder with pure liquid alcohol, which stuck to the powder, essentially capturing the alcohol in white dust. “It would feel dry to your hands,” Coupland says.
The Palcohol makers are not revealing how they make their product, which comes in cosmopolitan, mojito, margarita, and lemon drop flavors. “They say that they are trying to patent it at the moment, which suggests they have something novel, but I have no clue what that could be,” says Coupland.
So it looks like powdered alcohol is indeed possible, but won’t be for sale anytime soon. For now, you’re still going to have to consume your alcohol with dinner—instead of sprinkled on top of it.
A new survey published in the journal of the American Medical Association finds that an overwhelming majority of Americans—69 percent—say all health plans in the U.S. should be required to cover the cost of birth control
There’s debate over whether all health plans in the United States should be required to cover the cost of birth control. An overwhelming majority of Americans—69%—say yes, according to a breaking survey published in the journal JAMA.
While this suggests the issue is less divisive than previously thought, it’s still a hot-button topic in the courts. In June, the Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the owners of the arts-and-crafts chain, who are Southern Baptists, contend that their right to exercise religious freedom are infringed upon by the Affordable Care Act provision requiring them to guarantee no-cost birth control and emergency contraceptive coverage for their employees.
Although most Americans are in favor of the mandated birth control coverage—77% of women and 64% of men—it was the least agreed upon when compared with other health services under the ACA provision. Coverage of preventive services like mammograms and colonoscopies, vaccinations, mental health care, and dental care all had more support than mandatory contraceptive coverage, according to the JAMA poll. (Birth control coverage has the most support among women, and black and Hispanic respondents.)
The researchers hope their data can be used to inform the ongoing national debate over contraceptive coverage.
The deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome has neither no definitive origin, nor a known cure, so global public health officials are becoming increasingly concerned by the Saudi government's sluggish response as the number of human cases continues to rise
The sudden spike in cases of Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, in Saudi Arabia came soon after camel-racing events at the Jenadriyah Festival in Riyadh. That suggested the surge in the incurable coronavirus, which resembles pneumonia but is fatal to 1 in 3 who contract it, confirmed what scientists already knew of the disease: that camels seem to be reservoirs for the virus, and transmit it to humans more easily than humans do to one another.
But with the number of cases picking up, there are worries that may be changing. And if the virus has mutated to increased person-to-person contagion, it has potentially catastrophic implications for another annual festival: the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina known as hajj. More than a million Muslims from around the globe gather in the western Saudi cities during the first week of October, then return to their home countries, which last year numbered 188. In an age when international travel has dramatically exacerbated the spread of new viruses like SARS, virologists say the mounting concern is only too clear.
The worries are aggravated by the performance of the Saudi government, which has failed to confirm whether the virus is, in fact, mutating. The Saudis have either not performed tests that would reveal the changes, or have not shared them with international authorities, virologists complain. On Monday, Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah was fired amid mounting criticism of the kingdom’s handling of the budding crisis.
“It’s frustrating,” says Ian Mackay, an associate professor at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre at the University of Queensland, who compared the Saudi handling of MERS with China’s response to the 2013 outbreak of bird flu. “With the H7N9 virus, China provided almost too much information. You worried about the privacy of some of the patients, given the level of detail that China was providing.
“But we’re seeing the complete opposite extreme in Saudi Arabia, where you can’t even get the sex of the patient in some cases,” Mackay tells TIME. “And the WHO doesn’t seem to be getting that information either.”
Indeed, the World Health Organization as good as confirmed it did not have the latest information from Riyadh in declining to comment on the outbreak on Tuesday afternoon. “Kindly be advised that we cannot comment on latest MERS figures since we do not have the latest case count,” the WHO’s media office says in an emailed reply to questions from TIME. “And we can only communicate and comment on the cases that we have been officially notified of by a member state, namely Saudi Arabia.”
Concerns that the virus may have mutated are focused on two clusters of cases among health care workers: one cluster is in Jeddah, the western Saudi city through which pilgrims pass en route to nearby Mecca. The other cluster is among paramedics in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.
Mackay, who noted the clusters in his blog, says he can see two possible explanations: “One is a fairly bad but widespread breakdown of infection control and prevention protocols” among the health care workers — that is, nurses or doctors failing to use gloves, surgical masks or other standard measures designed to prevent infection while working with a MERS patient. Such a breakdown would be possible even in a well-equipped and prosperous Gulf nation, Mackay noted, but for both outbreaks to take place at the same time “would be fairly coincidental.”
The other, more alarming possibility? “The other avenue is the virus has changed and become more easily transmitted between humans,” Mackay said.
That is cause for concern way beyond the Middle East. “When humans readily transmit to humans, that’s what will cause a worldwide outbreak,” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told National Public Radio. “We are very concerned that … with what we’ve seen over the last two weeks … we may be at that point now.”
Whether the virus has, in fact, mutated dangerously cannot be known until the Saudis examine the genome of the latest samples of the virus and share the results. The WHO has said it is “working closely” with the kingdom, but has not issued any conclusions. Another way to find out if the virus has mutated would be if the number of cases were to skyrocket. But with only 344 cases worldwide so far — a decade ago, SARS infected at least 8,000, and killed 775 — the count remains low, and awareness is growing.
In 2013, concerns over MERS kept many as a million people away from hajj, an obligation that the Koran imposes upon any Muslim who can afford the trip. Saudi authorities discouraged attendance by the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and people already suffering from chronic illness, a major risk factor for the virus. Still, more than 3 million people circulated at the holy sites for five days, at close quarters. With the risk of mass contagion in the air this year, the world may be hoping for a better reaction from Saudi Arabia than it has got so far.
Most of your parenting choices don't affect me. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. The same is true when you don't immunize your children.
I try not to judge other parents. If you want your whole family to sleep together in one giant bed, it is none of my concern. If you feel like breastfeeding your kid until he’s in junior high school, go for it. If you don’t want to or can’t breastfeed, hey, formula is good too. To binky or not to binky? Maybe that is the question in your house, but I am positive you will make the right decision. Either way, I could really care less. Most of your parenting choices don’t affect me or my children. Having a loaded weapon in your house does. It has the potential to do serious harm to, and possibly kill, my child. The same is true when you decide not to immunize your children against preventable infectious diseases.
My kids are five and two. They have gone through most of their early childhood vaccinations. With all the coverage in the news lately about the return of the measles and the mumps (seriously, mumps is a thing again?), I called the pediatrician to confirm that their immunizations were up to date. I found out that I had somehow missed my two year old’s second MMR vaccination. Just in case you don’t know, those two “Ms” stand for measles and mumps! Crud… I was an accidental anti-vaxxer! It was an oversight that I quickly remedied. That was a close one! What if my little dude had come in contact with one of the unvaccinated!? Chances are, nothing. But maybe, something. And if it was something, that thing could have been catastrophic.
I’ve been wondering lately if I have any friends who are anti-vaxxers. Some of the dads in my playdate group are kind of out there: musicians, actors, and such. One is a big conspiracy theory guy. Another is active in the Occupy movement. Who knows what kind of wacky stuff they’re up to? Maybe they hopped aboard the trendy not-getting-your-kids-immunized train. I brought it up with a couple of them. Luckily, no true nut jobs. (Well, about this issue anyway. They’re an odd bunch, but in the best ways.)
There is one dad who is not fully on board with vaccines, deeming some of them unnecessary. He felt that the reason a lot of vaccines are required by schools is because the state has a financial interest in…I don’t know…their sale and distribution or something. It was the conspiracy guy, and I had kind of a hard time following his logic. He also does not agree with the recommended vaccination schedule, asserting that getting too many at a time weakens a child’s immune system. (A reasonable-sounding concern some might think, though there is absolutely no evidence supporting it.) But, even if somewhat grudgingly, he vaccinates his daughter. Whew! We can still hang out; our children can still be friends.
I’m sort of joking…but the truth is, I’m not sure what I would do if I found out that one of my playgroup buddies was an anti-vaxxer. I really like those dudes! And most of the kids have known each other so long, they view each other as second cousins.
At this point — especially since I rectified my earlier negligence — my children are out of the danger zone. Not all vaccines are 100% effective, but I feel relatively safe. Yet, I remain rankled by the anti-vaxxers. There is still a chance that my children could be a part of the unlucky few who are vaccine resistant. Though the risk to my children is small, there are other children who are too young for certain vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are unnecessarily putting those kids in harm’s way (not to mention the potential danger to their own offspring). They are, in fact, banking on others getting vaccinated to protect their own children from the spread of disease. It just seems so selfish. Of course, they believe that they are doing what is best for their kids and are likely discounting the exposure of other children.
I understand that injecting something into your child that you do not fully comprehend is scary. Most parents are not scientists or doctors. I’m certainly not. I also understand that nothing I say is going to convince anti-vaxxers that vaccinations are safe; their minds are already made up. Other people, who are much smarter than I am, have made a pretty compelling case for the efficacy of immunizations. Yet the anti-vaxxer movement seems to be on the rise. If you are on the fence, I ask only that you don’t just do your “research” on anti-vaxxer websites. That is not really research; it’s confirmation.
Not vaccinating your children is that odd family decision that has potential real life consequences outside your home. It should come with a certain set of responsibilities. If you have a gun in your house, you are expected to safely secure it. If you have decided not to immunize your children, it is incumbent on you to make sure other children are not exposed to an unnecessary threat of infectious disease. It may seem harsh to equate an innocent child with a loaded weapon, but if that child comes into contact with a virus he is not immunized against, the metaphor is apt. Most of the time, because of herd immunization, unvaccinated children are not exposed to these diseases. They are, therefore, harmless: unloaded and secured. As we have seen with recent outbreaks, however, the safety of the herd does not hold up when too many people opt out.
If you are worried about anti-vaxxers in your playgroup, you need to find out for yourself and not wait for other parents to bring it up. It is not a topic you should debate (trust me, you will not persuade your anti-vaxxer friend to immunize her child), but it is important to have the information. If there are unimmunized children in the group, consult your pediatrician about what increased risks there may be to your child. Then, you can make an informed decision about what is best for you and your family.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau rescinded its April 8 'label approval' of controversial new product Palcohol
The federal government admitted Monday that its recent approval of Palcohol—a powdered alcohol which turns water into vodka and rum—was actually done in “error.”
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau granted Palcohol “label approval” on April 8 only to withdraw it 13 days later. “TTB did approve labels for Palcohol,” it said in a statement. “Those label approvals were issued in error and have since been surrendered.”
Palcohol’s parent company Lipsmark said in a statement that “there seemed to be a discrepancy on our fill level, how much powder is in the bag” and that the approvals were surrendered on the afternoon of April 21. “This doesn’t mean that Palcohol isn’t approved,” it said. “It just means that these labels aren’t approved. We will re-submit labels.” Palcohol will have to resubmit labels for approval to the bureau, which is part of the Department of Treasury.
The government had originally approved various types of Palcohol—ranging from lemon drops to cosmopolitans. Various news outlets noted the approval of the product more than a week later, when it began covering the science and safety of the powdered drink.
And with good reason, as powdered alcohol has the potential to be a public health nightmare. Beyond the fact that it’s easy for underage drinkers to use discreetly, the potential for users to snort it is serious business. Snorting alcohol is dangerous because it’s quickly absorbed, and users get intoxicated immediately. People have already tried snorting liquid alcohol, and that can cause damage to nasal passages.
Palcohol’s marketing has not always taken this threat entirely seriously. According to blog SB Nation, Palcohol’s website originally stated:
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room….snorting Palcohol. Yes, you can snort it. And you’ll get drunk almost instantly because the alcohol will be absorbed so quickly in your nose. Good idea? No. It will mess you up. Use Palcohol responsibly.
The site has since clarified, “There was a page visible on this site where we were experimenting with some humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol. It was not meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol.” The company was not immediately available for comment.
The First Lady said that pigging out on favorite foods was fine from time to time, just so long as kids maintain a balanced diet and do plenty of regular exercise
Michelle Obama said Monday that “splurging is the key to life,” as long as it’s a small part of a healthy lifestyle.
“How would you appreciate vegetables if you never had chocolate?” the First Lady said during the White House Easter Egg Roll. “You couldn’t live without a little chocolate, a little French fries.”
The First Lady took questions from kid reporters during a question-and-answer session at the annual White House Easter event, and emphasized that occasionally splurging was O.K. as part of a balanced diet, alongside regular exercise, the Associated Press reports. “I still splurge when I can, but that’s why I try to exercise almost every day,” she told the young journalists, ages 6 to 13 years old.
Obama also said that her favorite sport is tennis, and she plays with her daughter Malia about once a week. She added that Malia also likes track and Sasha likes basketball and dance.
A 16-year-old hopped the fence at San Jose International Airport and squeezed into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight bound for Maui, where he emerged confused but unharmed some five hours later after surviving without oxygen at 38,000 feet
Authorities are still investigating the case, but a 16-year old stumbled out of a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Jose, Calif., to Maui on Sunday, after apparently hitching a ride in the wheel well of a Boeing 767. Officials say he was unconscious during most of the five-and-a-half-hour flight, and is lucky to have survived.
The plane reached an altitude of 38,000 feet, at which point oxygen is scarce and the brain shuts down, say experts. Without enough oxygen to keep brain cells functioning, people at high altitudes first develop lightheadedness, and, if they don’t receive oxygen, lose consciousness in a matter of minutes.
Here’s what the teen faced, and experts’ best guesses as to how he survived:
Lack of oxygen
Without oxygen, nerve cells in the brain start to falter, resulting in dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, and loss of appetite and energy. Because the brain regulates much of the body’s metabolism, a de-oxygenated brain can lead to other organ failure as well. Fluid can build up in the lungs and brain and lead to potentially fatal swelling.
In this case, the teen’s youth could have been an advantage. “The brains of young people are more adaptable, and recoveries of kids who were comatose for a long period of time are more likely than recoveries among older patients,” says Dr. Ben Honigman, medical director of the Altitude Medicine Center at the University of Colorado.
Researchers are also finding that some genes that can predict who suffers from altitude-related sickness. That may explain why certain people experience more symptoms in mountain regions, while others, perhaps such as this teen, could pass out but regain consciousness when back at sea level.
There may be psychological contributors as well. According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report [PDF] of 10 such cases involving 11 wheel well stowaways, five survived flights that reached as high as 39,000 feet. Many were politically motivated to escape, which FAA officials believe may have contributed to their ability to reach a “virtual ‘hibernative’ state” in order to survive. In a more recent study by researchers at the FAA and Wright State University, two passengers survived flights at 35,000 feet – one from Havana to Madrid and another from Bogota to Miami. The scientists speculate that the gradual climb of the plane allowed the stowaways to acclimate somewhat to the changing air pressure and low oxygen conditions, although Honigman notes that such acclimation occurs over just 10 to 20 minutes, while most mountain climbers take days or even weeks to acclimate to altitudes higher than 20,000 feet.
At plane-flight altitudes, temperatures can drop to 80 degrees below freezing, another way stowaways can die. But according to the Wright State study, some heat from the hydraulic lines powering the wheels and residual heat from the tires can warm up the well slightly, and that same source of heat during descent may help some stowaways regain consciousness. “I have to think that the temperature in the wheel well wasn’t around minus 40 degrees,” says Honigman. “I can’t conceive that he could have survived those temperatures for five hours; he would have been frost bitten or turned into an icicle.”
Even if it were that cold, there is a remote chance that the cold may have helped the teen survive the journey. Some research on survivors of near-drownings in lakes suggests that extremely cold temperatures and a lack of oxygen may put the body into a hibernation state as the heart rate slows and the body’s metabolism drops to minimal levels. But those experiences generally last only a few minutes, not the five hours that the teen endured on his oceanic flight.
If the boy’s story is confirmed, he joins a small group of flight stowaways who found some way to survive on low oxygen, low temperatures, and low air pressure under conditions that weren’t meant for human beings. “He’s a really lucky boy,” says Honigman.
A new parent will lose about 1055.6 hours of sleep in the first year of their child's life… that's almost 44 days
Sleepy’s mattress retailer is pretty pro-sleep. So to help educate a consumer base —and, you know, promote — the company came up with a list of 30 “insane” facts about it. They range from the awesome (gamers are more likely to be able to control their dreams) to depressing (a new parent will lose about 1055.6 hours of sleep in the first year of their child’s life… that’s almost 44 days.)