Friday, July 23, 2004

Does Superinfection Exist?

Andrew Sullivan provides a link to the abstract of a paper questioning the reality of the phenomenon of superinfection, i.e, the sequential acquisition of multiple strains of HIV. Sullivan is quite naturally pleased by the paper's findings, for reasons I'll let him state in his own words:

If neither man can get reinfected, they can also dispense with condoms
Now, it may well be that superinfection really is a myth, but Sullivan, last I heard, was not a virologist (nor am I, for that matter), and it is hardly for him to make the call as to whether or not the science points in one direction or another. Furthermore, there's a very strong incentive for him to wish to seek out only the evidence to support the viewpoint he'd prefer to be true, so his being able to dig up a single paper that buttresses his convictions isn't reason for anyone else to be convinced that he's given us the final word on the subject. Indeed, running a PubMed query for "HIV" and "superinfection" turns up 200 papers, and all of the recent papers disputing the reality of superinfection happen to have had a certain RM Grant as one of their authors, hardly indicative of an independent replication of results.

It may well be that the case against superinfection will strengthen with the passage of time, but to propagandize against it in lieu of replicated findings disputing it, as Sullivan is currently doing, is extremely dangerous. If he wants to go barebacking with other HIV-positive men, that's his own business, but it is hardly fair to these other men to downplay the possible risks when all the science isn't yet in. It would be one thing if the paper Sullivan links to had been out there for long enough that other researchers would have had the time to scrutinize it closely, but it just isn't so - the publication date was July 11, or only 12 days ago, and every scientific field has its share of researchers who obtain a series of miraculous results that no one else is able to come up with under the same study conditions.