The Science of Sustainability

Tracing Bad (and Dangerous) Internet Science

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Despite what you read on the web, having Rh negative
blood does not protect you from HIV infection.

A dangerous rumor has been spreading across the web that people with Rh negative blood are resistant or even immune to getting AIDS. They’re not. This is the “everyone is an expert” ethos of the web at its worst.

I was clued into this rumor through my Ask a Geneticist website. A few months ago I started to get a few questions about whether or not having Rh negative blood protects people from getting infected by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. I get occasional, random questions like these which I answer and then don’t give a second thought.

But then I started to get more of these questions. And then I got one where someone asked me if being Rh negative was the same as having a CCR5 delta-32 mutation. That woke me up.

Having two copies of the delta-32 version of the CCR5 gene does give some protection from HIV infection. But it has nothing to do with being Rh negative.

Being Rh negative has to do with red blood cells and CCR5 delta-32 with white blood cells. Not only that, but CCR5 and RhD are separate genes on separate chromosomes. (The RhD gene is the gene involved in being Rh negative.)

Clearly the questioner had put two and two together and came up with the answer that CCR5 delta-32 and being Rh negative were the same thing. Which is not the case. I decided to set out and try to find out where this rumor was coming from.

As I talk about here in a previous post about Rh negative blood, I traced it down to a couple of things. One was the supposed mystique associated with being Rh negative. The other had to do with a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of four separate bits of science.

This rumor probably isn’t that big a deal yet. It isn’t like the polio vaccine one in Nigeria that has caused a resurgence of polio there. Or the one about vaccines in general being risky which is at least part of the reason for the whooping cough epidemic here in California.

But if the rumor that being Rh negative protects you from AIDS does take off, then people will get AIDS who otherwise might not have. Rh negative people who do risky things are as likely to get AIDS s anyone else. This is why I wanted to find out what was behind the rumor and try to nip it in the bud.

Hopefully the few people who read what I have written will trust me. I have no axe to grind here and really only care about the truth. Which, unfortunately, is not what a lot of people think about most scientists.

Scientists, along with many other experts, used to be seen as impartial. This is no longer true. In fact, the “everyone has to be an expert” idea probably springs from this general mistrust of authority.

If you don’t trust scientists, then you are going to try to interpret the science yourself. That is hard enough that you may come to the wrong conclusions.

So one answer might be to try to find or create a reliable source of science information. Some place where the scientists involved have no vested interest in the answer.

This used to be universities and the government but that ended long ago. We obviously need something else.

Maybe someone with way too much money like Google needs to set up a foundation where scientists can squash these rumors before they spread. The foundation would have to be independent and receive no outside funding and the scientists would have to work for no one else. This might be enough to give most of the public the confidence they need to trust the answers that come out of the foundation.

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Dr. Barry Starr

About the Author ()

Dr. Barry Starr is a Geneticist-in-Residence at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA and runs their Stanford at The Tech program. The program is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Stanford Department of Genetics and The Tech Museum of Innovation. Together these two partners created the Genetics: Technology with a Twist exhibition. Read his previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.
  • Liz Ditz

    Hi Dr. Starr:

    "a foundation where scientists can squash these rumors before they spread. The foundation would have to be independent and receive no outside funding"

    You could try two UK sites:

    Sense About Science

    http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php

    and the newly-formed Nightingale Collaboration

    http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/

    There are fact-based nonprofits for particular diseases or medical interventions (I'm thinking about Shot of Prevention, a blog sponsored by several immunization-promoting non-profits). For a general blog I recommend Science-Based Medicine

  • Paul Bishop

    Please comment on this Patented cure for AIDS. Is it real or a hoax?

    United States Patent 5,676,977
    Antelman October 14, 1997
    Method of curing AIDS with tetrasilver tetroxide molecular crystal devices

  • Barry Starr

    I'm not an expert on HIV infection but since this patent was published in 1997 and nothing has come of it in 14 years, I'd say it probably isn't as effective as the person(s) who patented it hoped. This doesn't mean it was a hoax, people have to patent very preliminary results to keep from getting scooped by someone else. Most likely this looked good in the lab under certain conditions but it didn't hold up with more extensive testing. Of course I don't know for sure what happened but this would be a big deal if it worked and it wasn't (I couldn't even find any published papers on it). The only time I have seen HIV cured is when someone received a bone marrow transplant from a donor with two copies of the delta32 version of the CCR5 gene (see http://www.kqed.org/quest/blog/2008/11/24/curing-aids-with-a-bone-marrow-transplant/) and we'll have to wait and see if it really is a cure.

  • http://n/a al7

    to the conscerned . the above listed patent must be the one mentioned on the " godlikeproductions" site. i looked into this . who owns the site . i read the server for the site goes back to elgin air force base area in florida . thats on the net . the % of ppls with the ccr5 delta 32 mutation and those with rh negative blood are the same or close at about 18% in america and nw europe ,but since i been digging in on the issue i found a big laundry list id host resistance factors to include pk levels , hla -b 27 and 57 and more too. now just today i read the blood given to preemie infants was taken from o- donors. why? i have 0- but don't donate because i fall in the risk group of the polio vaccine contamination with sv-40 group. what sparked the aids/cancer epidemic? am i resistant? i do have nhl. is mpmv,srv-d,sv-40,siv and se-polyoma virus all the same agent ? my doc knows nothing and he's an oncologist associated with pitt. wtf? i find siv is the progeny stage of sv-40. thats the differeence between the rna virus and its dna stage . sv-40 was an older name for se polyoma . siv was not adopted till the 80s. what kind of dance am i seeing here where they keep changing its name ? starr if you have anything to add reply to my email allensouth2000@yahoo.com

  • Guest

    I'm O-, they keep vaccinating me… I do not develop antibodies with vaccines. I have the antibodies from wild viruses only. Maybe the answer is vaccines don't work as well for anyone, but I think it's because I'm O-. My friends who have had babies aren't told every time they have a baby they have to have a Rubella shot because they have no antibodies, AGAIN (seriously 3 times this happened). I should have said NO the 2nd time. What the heck what I thinking? This also happened when I was a child. I had the smallpox vaccine–I think I was the only child without the smallpox shot scar. I got the measles (not Rubella kind) when I was a child as well. Yes, and I was vaccinated. They told us, oh she got a bad vaccine. Seems a theme throughout my life. My guess is this, us O- types are a very small percentage of the population. Are vaccines even made to work on us? Are we even part of the herd?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pete.cowell.359 Pete Cowell

    I have been in some groups on facebook for people with rhesus negative blood and I know where some of it comes from. There was a woman called Ellenor Whitty who offered a reward for anybody who can find an O negative person with HIV, but nobody came forward. There's also a man called Mike Dammann who some don't believe he's even rhesus negative with some rhesus negative web pages. He started off only writing about conspiracy theories such as chemtrails or politics, and would make money from the advertising on the sites, but then after making a youtube video about rhesus negative, he decided he was rhesus negative, yet had told people before that he had never had his blood tested to know.

    • Barry

      Thanks for this internet sleuthing! It is really interesting to see how these rumors might have started…

  • http://www.facebook.com/pete.cowell.359 Pete Cowell

    One thing is for sure is that the CCR5 mutation is most common where people are rhesus negative, so maybe rhesus negative people are more likely to have the other mutation?

    • Barry

      Is this for sure? There isn't any genetic reason for the two to be linked as one is on chromosome 1 and the other on chromosome 3.

  • Debbie

    Hi Barry and all. I am pretty sure I am the one who asked the question that "woke you up". I understand your concerns over false info. My initial question to you, if I recall correctly was if there was any correlation between CCR5 and rh negative. It has been 3+ years and still arises in my thoughts. I thank you for answering the question back in 2010. I know the two are on completely different chromosomes. I was just wondering if any study had been done (or perhaps should be done) to see if those with CCR5 also had an rh negative blood type. Most likely no study was done. The problem I have is the four different sciences rarely communicate with each other as they are so fixed on their particular area of expertise. I don't think it is unreasonable at all. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box. RH negative is more then not brushed off. Maybe because of the small percentage the funding an interest would lean towards the majority. Thankfully the discovery of O- used as the universal blood donation as well as RhoGam to prevent serious complications and death. There is something to rh negative blood that is different. There may even be correlations between different chromosomes. How would anyone know anything without asking. Thank you.