Fatal Organ Failure Linked to AIDS Drugs

Stunning Media Silence on Study Linking Fatal Organ Failure to AIDS Drugs

Jason Nusbaum on the best kept secret from Barcelona

August, 2002


A presentation at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona by a University of Pittsburgh AIDS researcher reveals the "most common cause of death among HIV positive people is liver failure." Dr. Amy Justice bases her conclusions on a study following nearly 6,000 HIV-positive diagnosed patients at four sites in the United States. AIDS establishment scientists have never claimed that HIV damages the liver.

I contacted Dr. Justice by phone to learn more. During our conversation she told me that causes of death among people with AIDS have never been carefully recorded over the years. This is a concern we AIDS realists have been raising for more than a decade only to be dismissed by the AIDS establishment. Justice said that to the best of her knowledge, her study is the only one that reliably recorded actual cause of death in AIDS patients.

The implications of this admission are astounding. Liver failure is the leading cause of death among individuals being treated with AIDS meds in the only study that reliably records causes of death. Apparently, no establishment researchers make the important distinction between deaths from AIDS drugs and deaths from diseases called AIDS.

I wondered if this mainstream AIDS scientist might now agree with what AIDS realists have known all along, that AIDS meds can kill. I brought up the issue with Dr. Justice: "I hear your careful presentation of the science, and your careful statements about what your research shows. Can you give me your intuition though, are the AIDS drugs involved in the deaths of these people?"

Dr. Justice laughed. "I think they are, yes. It's the dark side of these drugs."

According to the Justice abstract and the results of another study from the European EuroSIDA cohort also presented at the Barcelona AIDS conference, liver function tests and red blood cell counts are more accurate predictors of illness and death in HIV positives than viral load tests or T-cell counts. Both liver toxicity and anemia (low red blood cell levels) are well known side effects of AIDS drug treatment. And like liver damage, anemia is not blamed on HIV.

AIDS establishment studies with similarly profound implications for HIV positive diagnosed persons are regularly published in medical journals, but if the mainstream media is aware of such information, they're not telling.

The one mainstream mention of the Justice et al and EuroSIDA findings put a positive spin on the dire news, portraying the studies as merely proving out "simpler and cheaper" methods of measuring risk of death and progression to disease, glossing over the issues of drug-induced liver failure deaths and life-threatening anemia. According to Medscape's report, the studies illuminate easier and less expensive lab tests, while liver damage and low red cell counts are "minor metabolic abnormalities."

Interestingly, the Medscape article makes a sudden denouncement of viral load testing, claiming it "has not proved the ultimate marker of the risk of HIV progression and death" that everyone believed.

From Medscape's coverage of the 14th International AIDS Conference:

"Barcelona, Spain; Monday, July 8, 2002 - The role of surrogate markers to predict survival or other outcomes in HIV disease has been an area of interest for many groups, especially as the epidemic has advanced and the range of potential markers has increased. When quantitation of viral load became possible in the mid-1990's, it was widely believed that this would provide the ultimate marker of the risk of HIV progression and death. In fact, this has not proved to be the case, and there has therefore been renewed attention to other, perhaps simpler and cheaper measures of risk. The laboratory measures that are routinely evaluated in HIV-infected patients include hemoglobin levels as a marker of anemia, and liver function tests."

Does this mean we toss viral load? Or that viral load remains the ultimate marker for HIV positives not taking the meds, but liver and anemia tests are the new ultimate markers for medicated HIV positives?

David Crowe of Alberta Reappraising AIDS Society comments: "I think the implications are rather sinister. The authors of the Justice study admit that liver damage is associated with HAART; it is the first factor they list. To include a surrogate marker that is at least partially controlled by a therapy as a marker of disease progression is very dangerous. If the liver enzymes worsen, does that mean that AIDS is progressing faster and that treatment should be more aggressive?"

The pharmaceutical companies, establishment AIDS activists, and federally funded AIDS scientists have nothing to gain and much to lose if these recent studies are accurately portrayed and widely disseminated. Without the work of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives, would you ever hear about studies like these or know what they really mean?

Jason Nusbaum is based in New York and serves as Director of Communications for Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives in Los Angeles.