The River : A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS

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9780316372619: The River : A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS

While science has devoted much of its efforts to finding a cure for AIDS, the sources of this deadly epidemic remain largely unexamined. Distinguished science journalist Edward Hooper presents the meticulously researched -- and highly readable -- history of HIV and its possible origins. Pursuing leads across the U.S., the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa, Hooper pieces together the tantalizing clues offered by long-archived blood samples, early AIDS-like cases (such as the "Manchester sailor" case of 1959), immunodeficiency viruses (SIVs), and the medical interventions in Africa and elsewhere that may have played a role in SIVs' crossover into humans.Hooper examines over two dozen theories of origin, and eventually discards most of them. What remains is a remarkable and well-supported theory for the sudden appearance of AIDS, and the definitive story of its lethal spread. Drawing on more than 4,000 sources and 600 interviews, The River is a thorough and provocative investigation into the most terrible epidemic of the twentieth century.

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Review:

For all the devastation and suffering AIDS has caused worldwide, we have devoted surprisingly little attention to its beginnings. Former UN official and BBC correspondent Edward Hooper hopes to find the source of AIDS in The River, a stunningly comprehensive yet deeply engaging scientific history of the disease. Through more than 10 years of research comprising over 600 interviews and untold hours of library work, Hooper has uncovered a complex, interlocking set of stories--of scientific research, of medical assistance to the Third World, of political and economic exigencies that drive the courses of our lives--and brought them together in over 1,000 pages of text, footnotes, references, and illustrations.

His thesis, that HIV made the jump from simians to humans via the administration of oral polio vaccine in Africa in the 1950s, is still controversial, but his arguments are powerful, broad, and undeniable--all that is lacking is conclusive proof. Like a good scientist (and, sad to say, unlike any HIV researcher to date), he offers several easy tests of his hypothesis. His tales of brilliant epidemiological deductions, biochemical comparisons, and physiological insights ought to convince the medical establishment that the answer can and should be found, both to help us deal with the current crisis and to keep us from creating new ones of its ilk. In a litigation-weary world, though, it seems that it will take the kind of tireless, impartial research found in The River to show us--and our leaders--that blame should take a back seat to truth when extreme circumstances demand it. --Rob Lightner

From the Inside Flap:

Based on over a decade of research, involving more than 600 interviews and analysis of more than 4,000 scientific texts, The River examines the myriad theories about the origin of the AIDS epidemic--and reaches a stunning and startling conclusion.

Since the early nineties, serious HW researchers have been aware that the most common variant of HIV--human immunodeficiency virus--is the direct descendant of an SIV--simian immunodeficiency virus--carried by African chimpanzees. This still leaves, however, the important and puzzling question of how the virus jumped from chimps to humans, which is all the more intriguing because scientists believe that the SIV has existed harmlessly in chimps for thousands of years, but transferred to humans in the middle of the twentieth century.

At the end of the century, most informed observers believe that only two viable explanations remain for how this might have happened.

Many doctors and scientists think the transfer was "natural," the result of human/chimp encounters--either from the keeping of chimps as pets, or from hunting and skinning chimps for food. That AIDS appeared only recently is due, they argue, to the massive social changes in Africa over the last few decades, including the large migrations that occurred after World War II and the end of European control of Africa.

Others, including Edward Hooper, believe it more likely that the transfer was the result of American and European medical interventions in Africa during the 1950s--and specifically the administration of more than a million doses of an experimental oral polio vaccine, some batches of which may have been manufactured from chimp kidneys. Hooper's extensive investigations and interviews in America, Europe, and Africa lead to some remarkable revelations, which include previously unpublished details about where the vaccines were given and the locations of the earliest traces of HIV and AIDS, as revealed by archival blood and tissue samples. The maps of vaccinations and early AIDS cases are extraordinarily similar.

At the heart of this book is a riveting detective story with frightening implications--including the continued reluctance of the medical and scientific communities to properly investigate the hypothesis that their activities may have inadvertently given birth to the most devastating infectious disease in human history.

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