Have I Missed the Joke?

This article was written in 2001, but the sad thing is that HIV quackery, cons and bogus inventions are still going on. There is no end to the lengths some low-life’s will go to to make money, and it is not just the HIV community they target. This is a few of the rorts going on back when this was written.

Type the query “HIV/AIDS+hoaxes” into the Yahoo search engine and see what comes back. You may be surprised to find that it will come back with 187 matches, and that is just for HIV/AIDS.

To follow all these links, or only to select a couple for investigation takes you into another world. You can look into fraud on a one-to-one basis by people who are simply unscrupulous, treatments and therapies that are on the verge of frightening, an underground antiretroviral drug trade, suspect complementary therapies, internet and email chain letter HIV/AIDS hoaxes, and urban myths.

The home page of the ‘Texas AIDS Health Fraud Information Network’ (TAHFIN(1)simply states that “The HIV epidemic has created business opportunities for many people. In many cases, people and companies pursue these opportunities with the sincere intention of helping while staying within the bounds of the law and maintaining fiscal integrity. The same motives can sometimes lead to harm even with the best of intentions. In some cases, the motive is to simply make a buck regardless of the consequences to those affected. The latter is what opens the door to fraud.” The Quackwatch site expands this further by saying that “The fact that HIV causes great suffering and is deadly has encouraged the marketing of hundreds of unproven remedies to AIDS victims. In addition, many companies in the ‘health food’ industry have produced concoctions claimed to ‘strengthen the immune system’ of healthy persons…many of the expert quacks in arthritis, cancer and heart disease have now shifted into AIDS” and that “…every quack remedy seems to have been converted into an AIDS treatment.”(2)

To explore all these areas, and the much vaunted question of ‘Does HIV cause AIDS?” debated on sites such as ‘Nexus’(3), ‘Is AIDS man-made?’ and the hoax of a new air-borne strain of HIV would require a lot more than the word allotment for this article.

The ‘cures’ observed on the Quackwatch site have included processed blue-green algae (pond scum), BHT (an antioxidant used as a food preservative), pills derived from mice given the AIDS virus, herbal capsules, bottles of “T-cells,” and thumping on the thymus gland. There is also Autohemotherapy – a worthless procedure in which a sample of the patient’s blood is withdrawn, exposed to hydrogen peroxide and then replaced. Add to this the entrepreneurs who have marketed covers for public toilets and telephone receivers with claims that this will prevent you from contracting the AIDS virus, and you have some idea of exactly what to expect.

Over at the “Educate-Yourself”(4) site, you will find yourself in for a real education. There are articles on ‘low voltage electricity’ to make HIV inactive. Dr Bob Beck designed the blood electrifier. The site claims to have seen laboratory reports and Institutional Review Board studies that seem to clearly support claims made by Dr Bob Beck that his blood electrification device has caused ‘complete spontaneous remission’ in literally thousands of AIDS patients, cancer patients, and chronic fatigue sufferers, to name just a few. There appears to be a lot of ‘claims’ and no documentation to support them. The two methods used to treat AIDS patients consist of either removing a small amount of blood, electrifying it then returning it to the body, or sewing a miniature electrifying power supply along with two tiny electrodes directly into the lumen of an artery. The small unit had to be moved every 30-45 days, as scar tissue and calcification occurred around the implant unit, and could lead to artery blockage. The site also reports that hundreds of HIV sero-positive patients have been converted to HIV sero-negative with the use of ‘Ozone Therapy’. “Help is available to AIDS patients right now but the medical establishment is ignoring it” the site informs us. It does state, however, that ‘no evidence for the claims exists in RELIABLE scientific literature.

On December 22, 2000 the FDA(5) issued a safety alert on unapproved ‘Goat Serum Treatment” for HIV/AIDS. This unapproved product, produced in goats as an antiserum against HIV/AIDS, was already the subject of a ‘clinical hold’ by FDA, prohibiting its use until previously existing safety questions are resolved. (Since researching this article, this hold has now been lifted, and the Goat Serum Treatment is undergoing clinical trials).

In 1999, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission)(6) issued a warning about bogus Home-Use Test Kits for HIV. The kits were advertised and sold on the Internet for self-diagnosis at home. The kits showed a negative result even when testing a positive sample. The kits could give someone who was actually HIV+ a false impression that he/she was not infected. Some of the ads stated that the World Health Organisation and the FDA had approved the kits for use.

As far as AIDS urban legends go, the one about ‘AIDS Mary’(7) is probably the most famous. The legend is that the morning after a one-night fling, a man walks into his bathroom and finds the words ‘WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF AIDS’ scrawled on the mirror in lipstick. The legend is also known as ‘AIDS Harry’ (obviously depending on who is telling the story), and it was begun back in 1986, and basically expressed the fears surrounding HIV/AIDS at the time. This legend was actually used as a defense in a criminal trial in 19908. Jeffrey Hengehold murdered Linda Hoberg after sleeping with her, then being told by her that she had AIDS. There was no evidence to support the allegation, as Hoberg had been cremated, and Hengehold had never tested positive. In a similar vein, a 1998 Internet urban legend stated that AIDS-infected blood is being injected into unsuspecting moviegoers and young people dancing in bars or at raves(9). Somebody’s (no name mentioned) co-worker went to sit in a seat at the cinema, felt a prick and found a needle poking up out of the chair with a note on it saying “Welcome to the real world, you’re HIV POSITIVE”. “It’s all false,” said Sgt.Jim Chandler, a Dallas police spokesman. “This has not happened, and we would ask people to stop forwarding this message to their friends because it’s creating situations where police departments and emergency personnel are having to respond to inquiries about this hoax.”(10) Other reports of needle sticks at bars and raves were investigated, and found to be false.

Even the seemingly innocuous world of email communication has not been spared its share of AIDS hoaxes. On the 7th December 1995, the following email chain-letter was sent to J.Beda(11) by several of his acquaintances. It had an email address at SYR.EDU, and in the SUBJECT: aids.
>For a class project, I was wondering if this could be passed on to prove
>a point. In my human sex class, we learned that if somebody has received
>the HIV disease, and they don’t know about it, they could pass it onto
>people who they don’t even know.
> Could you all pretend that I have HIV, and I gave it to you.
>Then could you pass it onto your friends? Let’s see if the entire
>email population could get infected by me alone.
> Please remember that this is a lab experiment. I have to say that I am not intending to offend any one in any way.
> By the way, don’t erase this or the forwards from your computer.
>Thank you
>Young Bradley
People pointed out the parallels between receiving this sort of email and having nonconsentual, unprotected sex with a knowingly infected partner. This is commonly known as rape, and potentially as murder. The recipient pointed out to the sender some of the faults of the project, not the least of which is that chain-letters are a BAD THING no matter what the cause. The project also had problems with its implementation in other areas. It never ends. When is the school project finished? It contains no instructions on where to look for more information. It contains nothing indicating who was responsible, or who to contact if there are problems. It does not offer any education on HIV/AIDS. Apart from anything else, sending out this sort of email is against the terms of service of every computer system ISP.
Generally, emails of this type take one of two forms: those that promise/threaten good/bad luck, and illegal pyramid-scheme letters that promise to make you lots of money.

The most recent scam is one to come out of Thailand, and notified to all TAHFIN(12) subscribers on 27th August 2001. It tells of 5,000 HIV-stricken people sitting a soccer stadium for several hours to collect a drug called V-1, a supposed cure for HIV/AIDS. Unlike conventional HIV/AIDS cures, it works on the digestive system instead of within the blood stream. The apparent food supplement is distributed free. There are a reported 755,000 AIDS patients in Thailand, which is one of the major reasons the scam has managed to succeed in a country where the average earnings are $2,000 per annum. Distributors are touting the cure as ‘an oral vaccine’. The Thai Ministry of Public Health tested the drug on 50 people, and found it to have no effect whatsoever, positive or negative. V-1s creators rebuffed Ministry officials who requested the drug be tested by the CDC in the USA. It is feared that soon V-1 will be marketed in other emerging nations who are being overwhelmed by AIDS, and have few resources. It is felt that if governments are put under pressure by the mass-hysteria these sorts of cures create, they will just allow nothing to be done to halt the distribution. Salag Bannag, the distributor of the little pink pill claims that over 100,000 people will have received the drug by the end of this year.

Now, we haven’t touched Low Frequency Sound, Induced Remission Therapy, Colloidal Silver, Bio-Engineering, T-Up or a plethora of other products available on the internet, and through quacks masquerading as practitioners. This article is not attempting to stop people trying alternative therapies. What it is saying is please be careful! Do not part with your precious money for anything unless you have investigated any claims thoroughly. Don’t be taken for a sucker. In Australia, any drug or item that is promoted for use by the general public must not only contain details about what the product actually does, but also what side-effects it can cause. The most blatant element of a lot of the products that are advertised on the Internet is that they only state the positive effects of the drug or devise, and that no side-effects are reported. This sort of situation should automatically make you think twice about the efficacy of a product.

In an attempt to tighten up legislation, and make people aware of their responsibilities when promoting drugs or gadgets, in 1998 the FDA proposed to issue new regulations pertaining to the dissemination of information on unapproved uses for marketed drugs, including biologics, and devices.

Of cause, this only becomes relevant if you are caught!

Tim Alderman
Copyright ©2001

1 http://www.tahfin.org
2 http://www.quackwatch.com
3 http://www.nexusmagazine.com
4 http://www.educate-yourself.org
5 http://www.fda.gov
6 http://www.ftc.gov
7 http://www.snopes.com/horrors/madmen/aidsmary.htm
8 Ibidem
9 Ibidem
10 Ibidem
11 http://pobox.com/~j-beda/chain-letter.htm
12 http://www.tahfin.org


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