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That latest HIV cure story that’s completely wrong #HIV #AIDS

That latest HIV cure story that’s completely wrong #HIV #AIDS

For the better part of a week now, my news feeds have been blowing up (in addition to well intentioned people emailing me the links) around a story being reported that an HIV cure is just months away.  I reeceived probably 25 emails sending me this hot topic, and a number of them were a bit miffed that I didn’t immediately post the news to my site.  Sorry on that bit; I need to see the facts first.  Over the course of any given month, I get well beyond 100,000 individual page views on this site. To me, that means I need to take the time and make sure what I’m putting out there is factually correct.

I purposely left it alone because I hadn’t heard any such thing in mainstream media at first, and I wanted to do some digging. In addition to that, I’m a member of a number of HIV-related message boards that are loaded with health professionals who chat all day long. Nobody was talking about this “cure” being months away.

So, being the curious journalist I am, I googled away.

Perez Hilton, the unfortunately famous blogger who’ll hit the publish button for any reason was at the top of the list:

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Queerty ran their own version of the story, citing – of all things – Fox News, which is apparently where Hilton sourced his story.  UPI picked it up, Web Pro News, among many others. Hell, just on this ONE story alone, there are over 54 million links to it.   To be clear: it doesn’t look like all of this nonsense actually started with HIlton, he’s just one of the first links it shows up in which means he probably pays big bucks for his SEO maintenance.  From what I can see, all this nonsense actually started in the Telegraph

It’s an astounding story, right?  And it’s also completely and utterly wrong.

Even as sites continued to source this story, professionals were already speaking out on it.  Had anyone bothered to Google it and scroll down the first page, they’d have seen it being disputed.

During the past week a story originating in the Telegraph entitled“Scientists on brink of HIV cure” has been published in other medias. The genesis of this story was an amazingly fast process, so much so that the actual scientists had to take to the internet and publish a statement clarifying that everybody was getting the facts wrong:

The article’s title and subtitle suggests that a cure for HIV is expected in months. But this is not the case, according to the Danish researchers from Aarhus University Hospital whose work was cited in the Telegraph.

– We are not on the brink of an HIV cure, says Dr. Ole Søgaard from Aarhus University Hospital.
– We have an exciting study in which a potential anti-HIV latency reversing agent is tested in persons with HIV. We are making good progress, but there is still a long way to go.”

The authors state that they regret if anyone got the impression from reading the article that there may be a cure for HIV in the immediate future. Like many others, the researchers believe that a cure for HIV is an achievable goal, but most likely it will take many years, numerous basic science discoveries, and several phase 1/2 trials before a HIV cure may actually be reached.

I’m sure that people had the best of intentions when they spread this wildfire across the internet, but to me, it’s a dangerous practice that I’ve spoken out against forever now.  Bloggers are not journalists, and damn few of them bother to fact check – much less look for information on their own.  If they see it on the internet, they post away and rarely – if at all – come back to clean up the mess they made.  The amount of time it took me to source this story and get actual facts to share? Fifteen minutes, and I stopped once to refill my coffee and put the clothes in the dryer.

HIV is not cured, nor should the word “cured” be taken lightly.  Remember just a few months ago, how a baby was functionally cured of HIV? Not a week later, 14 adults were seemingly also “cured” of HIV.  The crowd went wild, without taking any time to decipher these results on their own.  The results of both these instances ARE promising, but they are not a cure.  Clinical trials take years; even if were put on the fast track the first public disbursements of a cure is miles off on the horizon.

Were there not an amazing apathy and general complacency on HIV, I’d venture a guess that people would be alot more apt to invest the time and look for facts.  Medications are great now, and people are living decades beyond where they did 30 years ago with HIV. They’re also missing the footnote at the bottom of that page that says almost 50,000 new HIV infections occurred in 2011.  We’ve decided that a lifetime cost of $350,000 per infection, and 9,000 deaths every year directly related to AIDS related illnesses are OK bills to pay.  And with that complacency, a sloppy attention span with regards to actual fact sits in the shadows.

I doubt we’ll ever see the attention on HIV/AIDS that the early years brought ever again. Those days are gone for good.

Whether or not the apathy and disregard for facts remains is up to us that have a readership we write for.  Some of us actually still dig around in the dirt for facts. Others just copy/paste, and move on.

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