|1. Vapor Virus
Consider this a challenge in progress. This scientific adventure raises the
question of whether the hepatitis C virus, blamed for a major silent epidemic of liver
disease and even cancer, actually exists. Thats right. You read this correctly: I am
raising a question that may disturb scientists and hepatitis C patients alike. But Im
raising it anyway because it is vital to do so in the interests of public health.
Im issuing a challenge to the scientific community to
present me with the published, peer-reviewed scientific evidence that such a virus
actually exists namely that it has been properly isolated, according to accepted,
fundamental principles of virology.
The C Files
Thus far, I should tell you, Im underwhelmed by the evidence for the existence of
such a virus. Before tackling this issue bluntly and in far more detail next week, Ive
decided to offer those who believe the science supporting the virus is adequate the
opportunity to educate me on the subject. (Well even run your letters.)
You can do this by providing me with key references for proof that
hepatitis C virus is real and not some meaningless biotech concoction posing as a real
virus. I plan to ignore any speculative theories, pole-vaults in reaching conclusions and
the usual harangues from the medical and scientific community about the stupidity and
irresponsibility of journalists. I have little patience for emotional approaches to this
important scientific issue.
Many months ago, I wrote a column about hepatitis C, arguing that
government officials botched proper testing of the blood supply for the virus. (A number
of lawsuits are in progress, claiming the government was negligent.) In other words, I had
automatically accepted the conventional wisdom that such a virus exists. Im not
blaming myself here; there is only so much research that one can do at any time, and we
are often condemned, as Im sure you will agree, to rely heavily on the views of
others, particularly when there appears to be strong scientific consensus.
Inquiring Readers Want to
In response to that column, I have received a regular flurry of e-mail from readers who
ask me to write more about hepatitis C, particularly about how this epidemic has been
neglected by the government and medical community. So, in response to these letters, and
out of genuine curiosity, I have been slowly, but systematically, exploring the scientific
literature. What I discovered surprised me.
But first, lets look at the conventional wisdom on
hepatitis C: Official estimates are that about 4 million Americans have been infected by
the virus, that many dont know theyre infected, and that some of these people
(its not clear how many) who now have no symptoms, will go on, perhaps in 20 or 30
years, to develop a scarring of their liver known as cirrhosis, which, in some cases, will
lead to liver cancer.
The conventional wisdom says that this is a virus spread through direct contact with
contaminated blood; that means through such routes as sex, sharing needles for drug use
and, of course, blood transfusions, particularly in the 60s, 70s and 80s,
before the blood supply was appropriately monitored. For many of the people, perhaps as
many as half who have positive hepatitis-C antibody tests, the manner in which they may
have contracted the virus remains a mystery.
Antiviral drugs, often in combination, are the main fighting
force against hepatitis C, though, again according to the conventional wisdom, they appear
to be only modestly effective in about half of patients and have serious side effects.
When scanning the literature, most of this type of information
pops up again and again. And media reports on the science do not question the conventional
wisdom, at least not the numerous ones Ive perused. Yet, the more I read the
science, the more troubling it appears, as I will reveal in some detail next week.
Challenge of the Week
As regular readers of this column know, I have taken it upon myself to call some of the
conventional wisdom in medicine into question if adequate science has been bypassed in
favor of speculation, hype and/or commercial gain.
What has especially energized me, of late, is the debate I still
hope to have with Dr. Rodrigo Munoz, president of the American Psychiatric Association,
over the science underlying the prescription of antidepressant drugs. Unfortunately, it
looks as though Munoz is shying away from a public encounter with me, even after
suggesting to me in an e-mail that he might be willing to take a crack at it.
Oh, well, maybe a prominent hepatitis C expert, perhaps even
someone involved in the discovery of hepatitis C, will want to have a free-ranging public
debate on what it means to isolate a virus.
To be continued.