Never heard of Dr. Michael Gottlieb, the young UCLA School of Medicine professor who diagnosed the very first five cases of AIDS and immediately identified their cause? You’re not alone.
Dr. Gottlieb himself didn’t know he had found the cause of the epidemic, and thus its cure, before it reached beyond a handful of patients in Los Angeles to take an "estimated 33 million lives”.
Clear case for an immunologist, not a virologist
In a report on its alumnus, Rutgers writes,
In the fall of 1980, a 33-year-old immunologist named Michael Gottlieb began hearing about young homosexual men in the Los Angeles area who, inexplicably, were becoming extremely ill. The men had a rare form of pneumonia … which only strikes patients with severely weakened immune systems. The five men whose cases Gottlieb tracked did not know each other ... [Emphasis added]
With all five patients suffering severely impaired immune systems but having had zero contact with each other, this was appropriately placed in Gottlieb’s field - immunology. There was no basis for involving the expertise of virologists.
In November, 1980, Dr. Gottlieb reviewed the records of a young artist, the same age as the doctor, hospitalized at UCLA Medical Center. Professor Peter Duesberg, author of Inventing the AIDS Virus, summarized the case:
The patient, who suffered from a yeast infection that had taken hold in his throat; also had a rare pneumonia that refused to go away. The Pneumocystis carinii microbe that caused the pneumonia was known to inhabit the lungs of almost every human on the planet; the disease rarely struck anyone but cancer patients, whose chemotherapy treatments would destroy their immune systems and leave them vulnerable to such normally benign germs. But this young man, in his early thirties, was taking no such therapy. Given his age, he should have been a specimen of perfect health.
With a new technology having just been developed for counting T-cells, a subset of white blood cells that “play a central role in the adaptive immune response,” Gottlieb was able to determine the immunological basis for this patient’s suffering - his T-cells were depleted.
By April, 198I, Gottlieb, having found that three additional young homosexual men hospitalized in the Los Angeles area had the same yeast infection, pneumonia and low T-cell count, concluded that there was indeed a new syndrome and alerted an Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) officer of the CDC who identified a fifth such case. The only question now was what was causing their immune systems to break down.
Interviews of the five patients immediately revealed the one factor common to them all, other than their sexual orientation, and Gottlieb entered it into his first AIDS research paper, in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of June 5, 1981:
The patients did not know each other and had no known common contacts or knowledge of sexual partners who had had similar illnesses. The 5 did not have comparable histories of sexually transmitted disease … All 5 reported using inhalant drugs, and 1 reported parenteral drug abuse. [Emphasis added].
Following the publication of this paper, a number of similar cases of a breakdown in the immune system were reported to a new CDC task force set up to identify new patients. Like the first five, they were all young homosexual men who used inhalant drugs. Nonetheless, a search of dozens of Gotlieb's subsequent AIDS research papers, does not reveal that Gotlieb ever revisited the potential contribution of inhalants.
What’s being inhaled?
Homosexuality, of course, was not new. So what was? And how was it related specifically to the homosexual community?
Gottlieb noted that patient zero “admitted using ‘poppers." The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry reported in 1978, just before the AIDS epidemic, on Poppers, A New Recreational Drug Craze:
Amyl nitrite is a volatile yellow liquid [that] comes in fragile glass ampoules which are crushed or "popped" in the fingers and then inhaled: hence the colloquialism “poppers"... the current poppers "craze" began only within the last two to three years.
Now the use of poppers has reached almost "epidemic" proportions in major North American cities. However, it has been centered so far among those persons who frequent homosexual bars, discotheques, and steam baths.
Why? [Warning: graphic]
Years before Viagra came to market, poppers were noted to
facilitate anal sex by increasing blood flow and relaxing sphincter muscles and increase arterial circulation to the penis, in men, or to the anus, in both sexes, increasing sexual pleasure … At a physiological level, they act in the same way as Viagra …
Professor Duesberg gives this history of poppers and their extreme toxicity:
Medicine first pioneered the use of alkylnitrite compounds in the 1860s. Because the substances relaxed muscles and dilated blood vessels, they helped patients with heart diseases such as angina ... Using only these tiny amounts, terminal heart patients never lived long enough to report dangerous health effects. During the 1960s, male homosexuals discovered the aphrodisiac effects of nitrites.
Few chemicals are more toxic than nitrites. Sodium nitrite, a much weaker, related compound used in tiny amounts as a preservative in meats, has been regulated for years as a potential cancer-causing agent. The alkylated nitrites (poppers), on the other hand, react more violently with almost anything.
Upon mixing with water, as in the human body, these nitrites form the unstable nitrous acid, which in turn destroys any biological molecules within reach. The nitrites and their breakdown products have long been known to scientists for their ability to mutate DNA, a point recently verified by direct experiment.50 In addition, nitrites are some of the most powerful cancer-causing chemicals in existence.
In contact with living cells, nitrite inhalants are cytotoxic (cell killing), which means they either poison or kill cells including, of course, the blood-forming cells and the epithelial lining of the lungs. Since these are among the fastest growing cells in the body, they will also be among the first cells to be in short supply if the sources are intoxicated. This is the reason that nitrites cause anemia, immunodeficiency, and pneumonia in experimental animals and humans51.
Mimics carbon monoxide
The reactivity of nitrites easily compares with such toxins as carbon monoxide, the gas that suffocates its victims when a car engine is allowed to run in a closed garage. Carbon monoxide destroys the hemoglobin in blood, preventing oxygen from reaching the body despite normal breathing. Nitrites do the same, a process that can be fatal if too much is inhaled at one time.
At the height of the "popper craze," for example, a number of overdose victims arrived in hospital emergency rooms with as much as two-thirds of their hemoglobin chemically destroyed. Or to look at nitrites from another angle, a single dose can saturate the person using it with up to ten million nitrite molecules per cell in the body, leaving plenty of opportunity for damage.61
Connecting the dots - pneumonia
The toxicity of nitrites to the cells of the lung and the immune system also explains the proclivity of male homosexual nitrite users for pneumonia, which is the most common AIDS disease in the United States and Europe … The added toxicity of cigarette smoke explains why, among otherwise matched HIV-positive male homosexuals, cigarette smokers develop pneumonia twice as often as nonsmokers. 73
Connecting the dots - cancer
Another disease prevalent among the young homosexual patients was Kaposi's sarcoma, a cancer of the skin discovered by dermatologist Moritz Kaposi in elderly patients. However, he related his discovery in 1872, explaining, “It always begins upon both feet and hands,” and progresses slowly over years.
Duesberg notes that it works quite differently in AIDS patients:
Often the Kaposi's tumor appeared on the face and upper torso and in the lungs of its victims, precisely where the nitrite fumes concentrated the heaviest during use….
Pulmonary Kaposi's sarcoma has never been observed by Moritz Kaposi, nor was it observed by others prior to the AIDS epidemic.
It appears that the nitrite-induced AIDS Kaposi's sarcoma and the classic Kaposi's sarcomas are entirely different cancers under the same name. The "HIV-associated" Kaposi's sarcomas observed in male homosexuals are "aggressive and life-threatening," fatal within eight to ten months after diagnosis, and often located in the lung.
More poppers = more cancer
Researchers also discovered that the risk of the tumor was directly proportional to an individual's total lifetime exposure to poppers ... Interestingly, they estimated that seven to ten years of exposure would, on average, produce AIDS-roughly the same as the supposed "latent period" of HIV.
Proof in animal studies
Intrigued by the poppers connection, researchers in several laboratories began independently testing long-term exposure in rats or mice to see if the drug could also cause immune deficiency.
One CDC research team deliberately used a low dose and carried out the experiment for only a few weeks, finding some side effects but claiming no damage to the rodents' immune systems ... But several other labs used higher doses that resembled the heavy recreational use by homosexuals, and their experiments all showed clear destructive effects on the immune system, especially after a few months.
In 1983, however, the CDC publicized only its own mouse study, claiming this as proof nitrites were really harmless. The other studies remained hidden in a monograph entitled Health Hazards of Nitrite Inhalants, which was published in 1988 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Proof in people
Before HIV was known, three controlled studies compared 20 homosexual AIDS patients to 40 AIDS-free controls … each study concluded that the "lifetime use of nitrites"... was a 94% to 100% consistent risk factor for AIDS…
Why not heterosexuals [Warning: graphic]
Like cigarettes, the deleterious health effects of street drugs are mainly seen after prolonged and extensive use. In that light, we note that while poppers are also abused by the heterosexual and lesbian communities, its frequency of use does not approach that of the homosexual community, for reasons specific to that community:
Although intense, most of the euphoric effects [of poppers] wear off quickly, typically within a few seconds or minutes.
Thus, when intending to relax the anal sphincter, poppers may be used “two or three times during the act.”
Homosexuals are also reported to use poppers more days each week, and all of this extra use correlates with a greater risk of AIDS:
A 27- to 58-fold higher consumption of nitrites by male homosexuals compared to heterosexuals and lesbians … correlates with a 20-fold higher incidence of Kaposi's sarcoma … and a higher incidence of all other AIDS diseases in male homosexuals compared to most other risk groups.
Early CDC data indicate that 86% of male homosexuals with AIDS had used oral drugs at least once a week and 97% occasionally …
More poppers, more AIDS
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports correlations from 69% ... to virtually 100% … between nitrite inhalants and other drugs and subsequent Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumonia …
the risk of developing AIDS correlated with the frequency of receptive anal intercourse prior to and after HIV infection. And receptive anal intercourse correlates directly with the use of nitrite vasodilators.
Less poppers, less AIDS
During the last 6-8 years the use of nitrite inhalants among male homosexuals decreased, e.g., from 58% in 1984 to 27% in 1991 in San Francisco … In parallel, the incidence of Kaposi's sarcoma among American AIDS patients decreased from a high of 50% in 1981 to 37% in 1983 … to a low of 10% in 1991 …
It follows that the incidence of Kaposi's sarcoma is proportional to the number of nitrite users. [Emphases added].
More AFLDS coverage of AIDS
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Can drugs other than poppers cause AIDS?
Please check back for the continuation of our AIDS series for answers to those crucial questions and more:
How and why did Fauci suppress evidence that HIV does not cause AIDS?
How painful and deadly was the anti-HIV treatment prescribed by Fauci?
How many times have public health officials mistakenly called a disease contagious?
Is the AIDS-HIV controversy making a return with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s #1 bestseller, The Real Anthony Fauci?
Was AIDS a trial run for COVID?
Click on our previous article from our series on AIDS: