Category Archives: HIV/AIDS

Articles about HIV/AIDS and HIV miscommunication

Episode 53: Bill Heisel On IHME’s Global Engagement

Who’s doing a great job of collecting health data and translating it into engaging public health multimedia? For many in global health, the clear leader is the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Indeed, on my first day at work at IVAC, everyone was throwing around the IHME acronym around like it was PBnJ and definitely a lol moment if you didn’t know what it stood for. I quickly found out why and had to speak to someone in the center of creation and engagement. Our latest podcast features Bill Heisel, Director of Global Engagement at IHME (which is much, much bigger that I had originally thought) and a must know for all public health lovers.

Fan of PHU? Support us by becoming a sponsor for as little as $1/month (can also cancel anytime)

Available Episode Formats:

Related Episode Links:

Episode 39: Tom Quinn on the HIV/AIDS Epidemic and Global Health


Special #WorldAidsDay podcast! Our latest guest, Dr. Tom Quinn, was one of the first doctors working on HIV/AIDS here in the US in 1981 and still in the frontlines of combatting this global epidemic as Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, Associate Director for International Research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, and a consultant at a long list of places like The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), World Health Organization (WHO). Truly a champion for public health.

Fan of PHU? Become a Patron (click here)! Support our cause for as little as $1/month.

Available episode formats:

Related show links:

New Podcast! Bill Moss: Global Disease Epidemiologist


We travel across the globe (metaphorically speaking) to learn about HIV, malaria, and measles in our latest podcast with Bill Moss, epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins. Bill tells us about his most captivating and proud moments in his research (and medical) career spanning over Zambia, Baltimore, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India and New York City. Learn about the work that ultimately lead to policy changes by the WHO based on his co-infection model of HIV and measles. Please check out our website for show links at and follow us on Twitter (PHUpodcast) and Facebook.

Available Episode Formats:

Related Episode Links:

Podcast with Moveable Feast CEO Tom Bonderenko


PHU is throwing a charity event on December 5 to benefit Moveable Feast, a Baltimore non-profit that provides free meals and nutritional counseling to people with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases. Baltimore is number 3 in the nation for incidences of HIV infection and CEO Tom Bonderenko tells us in our latest podcast how Moveable Feast has been helping in the fight against AIDS since 1989. Give a listen to this podcast if you’d like to learn about the great work Moveable Feast is doing in the community in the fight against HIV. And check out our events page for more information on our maiden community event!

Access the podcast by clicking here.

Interested in attending our charity event or donating?
STEP 1: Buy tickets here (the entire $10 will be donated!)

STEP 2: Sign up for free shuttle ride here (after buying tickets).

STEP 3: Join our Facebook event by clicking here.

Help Needed! STI Prevention & Charity Event

Here at Public Health United, we are an organization dedicated to improving public health communication so when a serious issue arises in our country we must join together to help. Sexually transmitted infections have quickly become one of the most prominent issues in our society. The Center For Disease Control claims that 20 million Sexually Transmitted Infections are transmitted every year in this country. The Baltimore/Towson area rank 3rd in the country for incidence of HIV, coming in after Miami and New York City.

Public Health United and Moveable Feast are teaming up to create a unique and fun experience while raising awareness and funding at the same time. We will be co-hosting the event on December 5th at Torrent Nightclub in Towson, Maryland with DJ Saint Dub. We want to bring a fun night of music incorporated with education that helps raise public understanding of the infections and how they can protect themselves. We will also be offering free testing at this event. So if you want to learn more about Sexually Transmitted Infections or you want to be tested for one then come join us on December 5th.

All proceeds of the event will be donated to Moveable Feast, a Baltimore City organization who brings nutritious meals to people living with AIDS. This event will help many people and shed more light on the diseases themselves but we need your help to get started. We have started a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising 2,500 dollars to help get the night started. Please consider helping us out and donating $10 today.

Click here to be taken to our GoFundMe page.


HIV vaccine failure: What does the future hold?

A major HIV vaccine trial has been suspended due to concerns that recipients of the vaccine may have been at increased risk of contracting HIV. This is the second time a trial with this vaccine-design has been suspended for similar reasons. This vaccine was made of an adenovirus-5 virus genetically engineered to express HIV proteins. When administered, researchers hoped recipients would develop an immune response against the HIV proteins, and become immune to infection with HIV. In human trials, recipient groups are followed after vaccination, and the incidence of new HIV infections in the recipient groups is compared with the incidence in a group that did not receive the vaccine.

In the most recent trial 392 individuals received the vaccine, of which 21 went on to contract HIV. In contrast, 386 people received a placebo, and only 9 contracted HIV. Researchers found these results to be statistically significant, and were therefore ethically obligated to stop the trial immediately.

This represents a significant blow for adenovirus-5 based vaccines. One of the problems may be that most people are exposed to adenovirus-5 earlier in life, as it is responsible for many common colds. More than 80% of sub-Saharan Africans, one of the most at-risk populations has pre-existing immunity to adenovirus-5.

One hypothesis for why this phenomenon has been observed is that vaccinating individuals with an adenovirus-5 based vaccine may stimulate a strong immune response among those with prior immunity. HIV preferentially infects activated T-cells, so the response to adenovirus-5  may expand the pool of HIV-susceptible cells. Whatever the exact biological reason, adenovirus-5 may be off the table as a vaccine vector.

Fortunately, HIV vaccines with different designs are in development or in clinical trial, such as those based off of vaccinia virus, alphaviruses, and human cytomegalovirus, which in monkeys actually led to complete elimination of the virus, which has not been seen before.

The latest results raised a critically important ethical question. The first is whether we need to suspend trials of new HIV vaccine designs until we better understand what has happened with these vaccines. It’s simply unacceptable to immunize people with a vaccine that may increase their risk of contracting such a serious disease. More attention could be paid to therapeutics while this goes on, as we know how to control HIV, but still have no way of curing infected individuals in a practical way.

Let us know what you think!

Scary monkey viruses? No, not really

An article published in US News & World Report last week on an exciting possible therapy for Ebola virus disease contains some of the worst scientific misinformation we’ve yet come across. Worse, the author, Jeff Nesbit, links to a similar article he wrote last year for US News & World Report, disseminating the same nonsense.

Last week’s article is ostensibly about a new antibody-based therapy for Ebola virus infection developed by U.S. military scientists. This therapeutic candidate, an antibody cocktail that cured several monkeys suffering from Ebola virus disease, truly is an exciting scientific discovery. Both articles, however, go on to discuss something even more frightening than Ebola, the threat of Simian hemorrhagic fever virus  (SHFV), jumping from non-human primates to people.

There are several problems with both the fearmongering premise and Nesbit’s background information. Nesbit starts his SHFV rant by discussing previous jumps of viruses from animals to humans like this:

 “Deadly, virulent viruses have jumped species from nonhuman primates such as chimpanzees to the human species three times in history: the SIV virus that almost certainly led to the worldwide AIDS pandemic, the SV-40 “cancer” virus that was accidentally included in polio vaccines in the 1950s, and the deadly Ebola virus.”

 This is bad, bad science writing, with some truth buried within wildly inaccurate history. It’s true that HIV is derived from simian immunodeficiency viruses, but that’s about as far as this paragraph gets without going off the rails. SV40 virus is indeed a simian virus that may have come to infect humans. We know, for example, that old polio vaccine stocks were contaminated with this virus, and that SV40 has been shown to cause cancer in small lab animals. Calling it the “cancer” virus, however, is inaccurate and inflammatory. Studies in the U.S. and Denmark, along with a larger analysis by the National Cancer Institute, have found no evidence that SV40 causes cancer in humans. Finally, we come to the easiest allegation to knock down, that Ebola virus jumped from non-human primates to people. In fact, the strongest evidence we have suggests that fruit bats are the reservoirs of Ebola and other similar viruses. It’s true that Ebola virus infects non-human primates in the wild and in captivity, but the source of any particular Ebola outbreak has never been identified, and it is decidedly not a virus harbored by primates.

It also needs to be point out that while the article rattles off two terrible examples of viruses that have crossed from animals into people, saying it’s happened three times in history is just silliness. It’s actually estimated that up to 75% of emerging diseases in humans came from animals. The list includes, aside from Nesbit’s three examples, Nipah virus, influenza viruses, rabies virus, and West Nile virus. We could go on, but won’t.

Next on the author’s agenda is convincing you that SHFV might be the next human plague:

“Because it is a close cousin to Ebola, biodefense researchers are also looking at SHFV. Both Chinese and U.S. researchers assume, for now, that it might be benign and a way to study the Ebola virus. And if it jumps to the human species — just as SIV, SV-40 and Ebola did — then the human species is nearly defenseless against it.”

From the top, SHFV actually is not a close cousin of Ebola at all. They cause a somewhat similar disease, but are virologically quite distinct. They share neither, a species, genus, family, or order. SHFV is an arterivirus, whereas Ebola is a filovirus. They have nothing in common in terms of shape or genome structure, and have drastically different replication cycles. SHFV is studied because the course of disease is similar, but it’s in fact a well-known virus, prized in the lab specifically because it does not infect humans, or human cells in the lab.  There’s really no reason to consider SHFV an impending threat,  and, accordingly, it’s studied in low biocontainment facilities. It’s true that we would be immunologically defenseless against SHFV were it to infect humans, but that’s true of most emerging pathogens, and not unique to this situation at all. We at PHU would never sit here and say SHFV could never infect a human, as viruses do make the species jump, as we’ve seen. But you can bet that for the virus to be studied in low containment that the risks have been evaluated, and the focus here should be on how SHFV can help us understand and treat disease in humans, not how it might make us sick itself. The article does close this way:

“And if it jumps to the human species — just as SIV, SV-40 and Ebola did — then the human species is nearly defenseless against it. But if it doesn’t — or can’t — jump from primates to us, then it just as equally could hold the key to a defense against the quite deadly Ebola virus.”

So he’s reined himself in at the end. We think it’s too late though; there didn’t need to be even a sentence suggesting you should fear SHFV. And the author certainly didn’t need to lump SV40 in with SIV and Ebola again, considering it’s never made someone sick. This is just the kind of article that makes us bang our heads on our desks, so we decided to make ourselves feel better by making sure you don’t believe more than a word or two of it. If you do want to learn more about the new Ebola therapy US News ostensibly reported on, here’s a much better article from NBC. It’s actually quite cool. The actual article in Science Translational Medicine can be found here.


Are we close to curing AIDS?

This week the New York Times published an excellent article putting in context many of the recently reported breakthroughs on HIV/AIDs research. The article details three exciting developments in HIV research that have occurred over the last few years.

One of these is the famed Berlin patient, actually a 46 year-old American named Timothy Ray Brown. Mr. Brown was already HIV+ when he was diagnosed with leukemia and received in a bone marrow transplant in Berlin in 2008. Mr. Brown’s bone marrow donor happened to have a rare genetic mutation that makes his cells resistant to infection by HIV. Mr. Brown, following the transplant, has reaped this benefit, and is HIV and symptom-free five years later, and with no anti-retroviral treatment.

The second development detailed was the “functionally cured” baby described in a PHU post by Nick last month. This baby was born HIV+ but immediately given anti-retroviral therapy. Almost a year later without continued treatment, the baby remains virus-free. The third development came out of France last year when 14 individuals were identified as HIV-free two years or more after stopping treatment. All of these reports demonstrate that the outcome of interaction between HIV (or any virus) and the host is always defined by the unique genetics of each individual, as well as by the virus.

Current anti-retroviral treatment can target many stages of the HIV lifecycle, but the goal is to prevent replication of the virus. We still don’t know how to train the immune system to kill infected cells that constitute the reservoir of HIV in a host. Understanding how the immune systems of these individuals not only prevented HIV replication but actually cleared the virus may allow us to adapt these strategies for use in the vast majority of HIV+ individuals who will require lifelong anti-retroviral therapy. Funding this kind of basic research and applying its findings to the clinic may, one day, save millions of lives.


Functionally Cured: HIV cleared from child after receiving early drug therapy – by Nick Wohlgemuth

HIV causes a chronic viral infection, meaning that our bodies aren’t able to get rid of the virus like with cold or “flu” viruses. Thankfully for HIV patients, antiretroviral therapy is usually able to control viral replication, and patients are able to live long, healthy lives and drastically delay the onset of AIDS. However, antiretrovirals have bad side effects, and virus levels usually rise quickly once treatment is stopped.

In March, scientists presented a report of an infant that has been functionally cured of HIV. What the heck does that mean?

To be functionally cured of HIV, an individual has to have previously had a confirmed infection with the virus. Then, usually through the use of antiretroviral therapy, the virus is driven to such low levels that when the treatment is no longer administered, the virus levels don’t increase.

In this case, the baby was born to a mother with HIV and given antiretroviral therapy 30 hours after birth. Scientists confirmed that the child had virus in her blood and continued to monitor the virus levels. Soon, they couldn’t detect virus by using the normal clinical detection methods. The baby was taken off antiretroviral therapy when she was 18 months old, and virus levels remained undetectable up to the time of the report when she was 26 months old.

When scientists look with more sensitive methods, they can still detect virus in the child’s body, but the normal clinical screens are all negative. The child remains symptom free.

This is the first time there was been a well-documented case of a child being functionally cured of HIV. This case stresses the importance of starting antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible. The broader implications are limited at this time, but this seems to prove, in principle, that if we are able to get good antiretroviral drugs to infected individuals soon enough, then we might be able to functionally cure many more people with HIV.

-Nick Wohlgemuth

Conference Abstract