HIV/AIDS denialists digging themselves in deeper

When first I commented on the unfortunate death of HIV/AIDS denialist Christine Maggiore a few days ago, little did I expect to be descended upon by several of her fellow denialists, who promptly swelled the comment thread after the post to close to a couple of hundred comments. Perhaps I should not have been so surprised. It’s an emotional story, and whenever, for example, Tara Smith wrote about HIV/AIDS pseudoscience it was not uncommon for her posts to provoke well over a thousand comments. It also doesn’t help that HIV/AIDS denialists tend to be among the most persistent of cranks.

In any case, when HIV/AIDS denialist Celia Farber decided to try to explain away Christine Maggiore’s death as being due to weakness due to a “cleanse,” I decided to take a look at her claims. From my perspective, it appeared that the dissembling about “cleanses” only made it seem more likely that Maggiore had an HIV-related pneumonia. Farber then decided to follow up one more time, and it’s a classic case of digging herself in deeper. Indeed, her “explanation” makes me think more than before that Maggiore probably had an HIV-associated pneumonia.

First, let me deal with something that annoys me. Farber appears unhappy about what I wrote but doesn’t have the courtesy or balls to bother to link back to me. I suppose it’s possibie that she was referring to some other blogger, but I don’t think so, particularly not after reading this:

I’m told that I stand accused in Internet hate swamp sites of claiming Christine Maggiore died “from a cleanse,” in the name of “denying” that she died of AIDS.

She died, while suffering from bilateral bronchial pneumonia, after taking on a de-tox cleanse, is what I reported. These people at these swampy sites apparently can’t read, can’t decipher basic English. Every time I report they accuse me of “denying,” but how can you be denying while you are reporting?

“Internet hate swamp site”? Little old me? I suppose so, but only towards quackery and pseudoscience. As I pointed out again and again, Maggiore’s death saddens me because it was due to an ideology that denies reality. Apparently, Farber can’t read her own words, because that’s exactly what she said: That a “cleanse” rendered Maggiore so weak that she could not fight off a case of pneumonia. She apparently can’t read the words of her friend, either. Let’s take a look at an excerpt from Christine Maggiore’s alleged e-mail:

Regarding my health, I finally figured out what’s going on…but it got really scary. Here’s the scoop I just sent a friend:

I have been through the absolute worst health nightmare ever. The cleanse, while definitely bringing about some profound benefits, left me feeling weak and dehydrated. I lost my appetite almost completely about 10 days ago and for some weird reason could only tolerate hot tea and hot chicken broth. I had been in touch with the cleanse doc who said all was typical, uncomfortable but typical. Not one to quit, I kept going. Then I started to have trouble breathing, I was feeling winded after the most simple task like making the bed.

This last Sunday, I stopped being able to sleep at all. So finally, genius that I am, I made an appointment to see my MD who is really smart and very well versed in natural health care and not at all into the HIV paradigm.I could only get in to see her yesterday. She said I was totally dehydrated and having a reaction to the herbs in the cleanse which she thought were suspicious. I asked her to check my lungs and she said they sounded clear. I told her I thought I should have a chest Xray anyway, just to be sure, but she was skeptical because I hadn’t had a cold, flu, cough or fever. But I insisted so she wrote me up to go to a radiology place that would give an immediate reading. By then I felt so ill I had to ask my neighbor to drive me and thank god he was there with me because I never would have made it to the radiologist without his help. As it turned out, the Xray showed a very serious case of bi-lateral bronchial pneumonia. The doctor immediately gave me IV rehydration, IV natural cortisone, and IV antibiotic.

It sure sounds to me as though Maggiore had been seriously ill at least since early December. Indeed, Farber’s reposting of Maggiore’s e-mail reinforces my opinion that she was either very ill beforehand, became ill (or more ill) after a “cleanse,” or both. Perhaps the most bizarre claim I’ve seen as to the cause of Maggiore’s death came from a commenter called Baby Pong on the Science Guardian blog, who claimed that EJ died as a result of a covert operation and that Maggiore’s death was similarly “extremely suspicious,” even going so far as to speculate that “the ‘holistic cleanse’ would have been an excellent opportunity for someone to have covertly introduced some extremely toxic substance into Christine’s body.” I don’t claim that this is what HIV/AIDS denialists are arguing in general; I only present it to show the depths of conspiracy mongering to which some of them routinely descend.

Looking at the e-mail reposted, I can’t help but give a tip of the ol’ hat to one of my commenters, who happens to be an infectious disease doctor and who happened to find Maggiore’s e-mail to be evidence that she did indeed have an AIDS-defining illness:

The information thus far available on Christine indicates a number of things:

  1. That she had about 2 weeks minimum of symptoms prior to her death, which is typical for PCP (this usually takes 2-3 weeks to progress as opposed to around 7 days for simple pneumonias).
  2. These symptoms (breathlessness with minimal exertion) are the hall mark of PCP, and are so typical that in themselves they should set alarm bells ringing in any clinician’s ears.
  3. Her doctor (who does [did?] not believe in the AIDS “paradigm”) did not manage her condition correctly, misdiagnosing her initial symptoms as being a “reaction to the herbs”. Brilliant.
  4. At that point, her lungs sounded clear (again this is quite typical for PCP) but at Christine’s insistence, an XRay revealed “bilateral pneumonia”.
  5. Ordinary “pneumonias” are always unilateral, in fact they are most often confined to a single lobe of a single lung. There are however 3 exceptions to this. They are:
  6. a). PCP, which is virtually always “bilateral”, b). Legionnaires disease, which may be bilateral, and c). Terminal bronchopneumonia in the elderly prior to death.
  7. Even with the diagnosis of bilateral pneumonia, Christine’s doctor did not consider hospitalization, but gave her antibiotics which obviously did not help cure her, but would have if she had a simple “pneumonia”.
  8. Failure of pneumonia to easily resolve with standard antibiotics is a sign that something else is wrong- usually the diagnosis is of a more serious or opportunistic pneumonia.
  9. Moderate to severe PCP is associated with significant inflammation of the lung and airways. Steroid hormones are always given (as well as specific antibiotics) to patients with this severity of PCP to reduce inflammation in the lung in the short term (a few days). So coincidentally, the steoids given by the doctor might have temporarily helped. However, without specific anti-PCP treatment, steroids would then have made things significantly worse, causing rapid deterioration of Christine’s health, which seems to fit with the time line.

The information provided by you and Christine in her email actually help to point to PCP being the cause of her pneumonia.

I agree.

Christine’s letter struck me right to my heart. She was clearly quite ill, and it is unlikely that the cleanse was what caused her illness or set her up for the pneumonia that killed her. Given her history of denialism, to the point that her daughter had died, it would have been extremely difficult for her to admit that she had been wrong, particularly given that her entire social system had been built up around her denialism. Worse, she had clearly trusted herself to a doctor who was a quack. Yes, a quack. This clown gave her some sort of “cleansing” regimen that was so harsh that Farber believed it plausible that it weakened her to the point where she could not fight off a pneumonia.

Personally, I have some advice for HIV/AIDS denialists like Celia Farber. Don’t be so eager to volunteer information. The more you volunteer, the deeper the whole you dig yourself.