origin of disease: no link found between AIDS and polio vaccine

An international team of researchers refutes the controversial theory that the AIDS virus, HIV-1, jumped into humans from contaminated polio vaccines. Proponents of the theory stated that a group of chimpanzees from the Kisangani region in the Democratic Republic of Congo were infected with a monkey form of the immunodeficiency virus. These infected chimpanzees’ tissues were then allegedly used to prepare oral polio vaccines given to humans — thereby allowing the virus to cross over into people. Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona and his colleagues argue in the April 22 Nature, however, that the theory can’t be true. His team tested wild chimps from the same area and found that while the virus is indeed prevalent among the animals, molecular analysis showed it to be so different from all strains of HIV-1 that it provides “direct evidence that these chimpanzees were not the source of the human AIDS pandemic.” Worries about the safety of the vaccine is hampering the global eradication of polio. The authors hope that their findings will finally lay the theory — and the fears it inspires — to rest.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 4/27/2004.
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