AIDS: Most Ineffective Biological Weapon Ever?

Yes, the US had a major biological weapons program for many years. So did the Soviet Union and so did the United Kingdom. Numerous other countries dabbled in biological weapons research at one time or another. Some programs did experiment with various exotic viruses and bacterial conditions. In general, pathogenic bacteria have been preferred for weapons use, as they can be easily cultured in mass and will grow in the environment, not requiring direct contact between hosts to transmit the infection. The ability to sequence and combine genetic material existed in only the most rudimentary forms prior to the 1990’s, but biological weapons programs did use the genetic engineering technologies and hybridization methods available to some extent.

However, AIDS didn’t come from any of these programs. It came from non-human primates and made the jump to humans some time in the 19th or early 20th century – although it is remotely possible that it existed in humans even earlier. The most likely explanation for the transmission to humans is the consumption of bushmeat. It existed in isolated populations in Africa for some time before entering the industrial world and rapidly spreading worldwide in the 1970’s.

Lets stop and consider something. If HIV was actually created as a biological weapon, it’s arguably the worst, most ineffective, most poorly chosen biological weapon ever created. It has none of the traits that an effective biological weapon should have and nearly all the traits that make an organism a very very poor choice of biological weapon.

  1. It’s not very easily spread.  It requires direct body fluid contact.   It can be transmitted by blood to blood contact or sexual intercourse, but even sex is not a very effective means of transmission, as the probability of transmission from a single sexual encounter between an infected individual and uninfected individual is less than 1%.   It’s not airborne, can’t be dispersed as a weapon, is not prone to transmission orally or even by close physical contact.   The only contact of transmission that actually results in transmission more than 50% of the time is a blood transfusion.
  2. It’s fairly easy to prevent transmission.   Condom use alone can reduce sexual transmission risk by more than 85%.   Screening of blood and tissue can reduce the danger from transplantation or transfusion to nearly zero.   Outside the body, the virus can be easily destroyed with even mild disinfectants. Just washing surfaces will usually kill or remove the virus. Even an item contaminated with the live virus is unlikely to cause infection, as blood to blood contact is usually required.
  3. It takes years and sometimes decades to reach the point where it incapacitates or kills.   Some individuals are carriers HIV and never even manifest symptoms of full blown AIDS. In the mean time, they’re perfectly capable of going about their business and reproducing, which, when they do, will result in a healthy baby, even for a female with HIV, more than 50% of the time
  4. There is no cure for HIV nor is there any effective vaccine, and while there are treatments, they are of varying effectiveness and must be taken for life. Having no cure or vaccine is a big disadvantage for a biological weapon, because it makes it difficult to prevent the weapon from infecting friendly forces or those who are deploying the weapon.For example, if anthrax were to be used on the battlefield, the force that released it would likely already be vaccinated and would be prepared with stockpiles of antibiotics for immediate treatment. Even biological weapons which are engineered to be resistant to most antibiotics usually are created with a selected “antidote” treatment. The unpredictable nature of biological weapons demands that there be a method to avoid a “friendly fire” outbreak once it has been released.
  5. HIV does not discriminate. Despite claims that it was created to wipe out blacks or homosexuals, HIV can infect any person of any race, any sexual orientation and any gender. Many straight men and women have been infected with HIV and the fastest growing group of HIV sufferers is heterosexual women.The fact that HIV has historically been seen in higher proportions in homosexual males is because of a number of factors. Certain sexual activities, such as anal sex tend to be more likely to transmit the virus. It is also believed that prior to the publication of the risks of HIV in the mid 1980’s, homosexuals may have been less likely than heterosexuals to use condoms (due to the fact that most STD’s were mild and curable with antibiotics, and unlike heterosexuals, there was no concern of pregnancy.)

AIDS does indeed kill millions in the poorest countries of the world, especially in Africa, but the impact is not nearly enough to tip the population balance or possibly wipe out African societies and races, as some have claimed its goal is. Especially given the impact of famine and war on Africa, the actual impact on the population by AIDS is not enormous. While it is tragic on an individual scale and has left hundreds of thousands orphaned, it is not depopulating Africa or even making a dent on world population. Furthermore the impact can be reduced, dramatically, by simple and inexpensive programs like condom distribution and education. The fact that it has not been reduced as much as it could be is more of a political issue than a scientific one.

It may seem like an attractive conspiracy theory to attribute something as sensational as HIV and AIDS to a conspiracy to create a weapon, but it’s not hard to see that the virus is actually about as poorly suited for biological weapon use as an infectious organism could possibly be. HIV is certainly not a “designer disease.” It also has no relation to any other viruses that conspiracy theorists have claimed were used as the basis for the virus.