Do engineered diseases actually exist?

Conspiracy theories claim that the HIV was manufactured in a laboratory… not in vain, the demonised homosexuals were the virus’ first victims in the Western world…And what about the deaths caused by the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in Yosemite, for instance?

Question sent by ROMUALD FONTANYÀ (Vall d’Uixó). MARIA A. BRACHO answers

Even though believers in conspiracy theories tend to be sceptic towards scientific arguments, this question deserves an answer. The first human beings ever to be infected by the HIV virus were not homosexual men from the 1980’s, but members of human populations located in West and Central Africa in the early 20th century. The Hantavirus infection is yet another example of Zoonosis or infectious disease that is naturally and casually transmitted from animals to humans.

Regarding AIDS and the Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome the answer is forceful— primates and rodents were the original or natural hosts of the infectious agents that cause these diseases long before laboratories or conspiracy theories existed. HIV was not manufactured in a laboratory. Viral variants similar to those that started the HIV pandemics in humans live together with infected primates causing no apparent diseases in them. The virus is named SIV (Simian immunodeficiency virus). Apparently, this pacific co-existence between the apish relative of the HIV and primates is due to a long process of co-evolution of both virus and host. During this process, primates have developed molecular mechanisms of control over the virus which preserve the immune system. The contact between the blood of infected apes and human blood or mucus facilitated this jump between species for SIV/HIV. In fact, many of these jumps from one species to another are well documented and proven ever since Louis Pasteur’s times and his vaccine against rabies. However, most unfortunately, unlike rabies or Hantavirus, HIV is persistent in humans, goes unnoticed for years and transmission among humans is highly effective. These are, roughly, the keys to the HIV pandemic.

We can talk about emerging or re-emerging diseases, those that were apparently eradicated and have made a comeback. However, there is no record of diseases or pandemics related to obscure purposes or caused by pathogens manufactured in a laboratory, at least to my knowledge. The ones we naturally have are enough.

To learn more about this topic:

Hemelaar J. “The origin and diversity of the HIV-1 pandemic”. 2012. Trends in Molecular Medicine 18(3):182-192.
Macneil A, Nichol S.T., Spiropoulou C.F. “Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome”. 2011. Virus Research 162(1-2):138-147.

Maria A. Bracho. “Miguel Servet” Researcher. Center for Public Health Research (CSISP). Generalitat Valenciana.

© Mètode 2012