A Question About AIDS

I’ve often heard about the silmilarities between HIV and SIV (Simian Immunodeficiency Virus) and the possibility that HIV and AIDS are the ultimate result of a human or group of humans somehow becoming infected with SIV. Considering how HIV is transmitted this raises some interesting questions, and one posed to me by a friend recently was this: Is it possible that AIDS came about as a result of someone eating a monkey infected with SIV? And as long as I’m on the subject, could a person contract AIDS by cannibalizing the flesh of someone suffering from the disease?

SIV did not become HIV upon being ingested. Virii simply do not switch vectors in that manner. It could be that the simian population decreased while the human population increased and the virus mutated to take advantage of the new predominant food source.

The short answer to your canibalism question is yes - but probably only if you eat the flesh raw. I’m not entirely sure, but heat may destroy the HIV virus. Then again, heat may not affect it at all. HIV is carried in the blood and other body fluids. Your mouth, especially your tongue, usually has a variety of small cuts in it, and if you have gum disease, that presents another avenue of infection. HIV, unlike some other organisms, can survive without a living host for a reasonable length of time, making this kind of infection possible although it may not be probable.

Welcome to the SDMB.

An early theory about the appearance of HIV/AIDS in humans was that some hunting rituals in Africa involve use of monkey blood. The idea is that a mutated form of SIV crossed over to humans in Africa, and spread from there.

“Most scientists support the theory that HIV jumped to humans from monkey hunters in the Congo.”

The origins of AIDS is a controversial subject, to say the least. So is practically everything else about the disease.

In answer to your second question, it would be difficult to contract AIDS from cannibalism. HIV needs a break in skin or mucous membrane to infect someone. I suppose it is theoretically possible, if you had an open wound in your mouth or a bleeding ulcer, but the acidic levels in the stomach would probably inactivate the rather delicate HIVirus.



But actual inestion of the AIDS virus doesn’t lead to infection?

Maybe Quagdope or another medical Doper will come along with a definitive answer, but when I was in school they told us that AIDS started after a researcher in Africa got bitten by a monkey. I always thought that this was rather implausible. I mean, how does an STD go from one guy to a worldwide pandemic in less than a century? We’re not talking about the bubonic plague, after all.

IMHO, the theory about people eating monkeys is probably the most likely answer.

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Board, BTW :slight_smile:

Thank you for the swift answers, and also thank you for the welcomes. You guys are a lot nicer than on most message boards I frequent.


I’m sorry I couldn’t resist

Ah. A scene from the famous children’s book Bi-Curious George.

I feel the same way. There might be one or two boards on the same wavelength as this, and even they are somewhat (informally) related to this one.

My understanding is that the AIDS virus is weakened and dying upon leaving the body. I heard this from the CDC a couple years ago, however, and feel most unqualified about commenting further on this very sensitive topic.

HIV is killed by heat. It is very unlikely that a person could be infected by ingesting HIV. That said, the theory that HIV is descended from the same monkey or ape immunodeficiency virus as is SIV and that the first human caught the ancestral virus from a monkey he had hunted for food is quite plausible.

It’s true that heat kills HIV, so eating cooked meat should be perfectly ok.

There was even a brief hope that heating could be used as a human HIV cure. Several patients tested HIV-negative after their blood was circulated through an external heater before being re-cooled and returned to their bodies. Alas, it was a forlorn hope. Sufficient numbers of the virus had remained in their body tissues, and after a time (how long I don’t know) the patients again tested positive.

Back in the mid eighties, people were talking about how HIV migrated from simian into human. I heard that people used to have sex with the green monkey as part of a ritual. That kind of talk got hushed up later on though.

Monkey has been a game animal in some parts of Africa for a very long time. It is possible to get HIV transfer from blood to the blood system of a butcher, or cook who cuts himself or herself while preparing a monkey for eating. It is really pointless, and a bit absurd to suppose sexual, or ritualistic practices among people we cannot even identify. And probably not accurate, either.

The latest genetic information I have read about indicates that there are some dozen strains of HIV, several of which may have been in human beings long before the turn of the last Century. The more virulent strains all seem to be closely related, and probably introduced to Humans between 1900, and 1940, or perhaps fifteen years before or after that period. How prevalent it was in the days before rapid transportation systems gave it a boost over the entire globe is a difficult epidemiological question to answer.

The long progression and complex presentation of the disease pretty much precludes identification of victims before 1950 except in some very rare cases. It is fairly likely that the disease was almost exclusively African up until the First World War. It may be the case that some of the less virulent strains had already become world wide before that, but they are really not much of a problem in most places. The M strain is the most virulent, and has already produced sub strains of it’s own. It seems to be descended from chimpanzee varieties of SIV, and have begun its zoonosis in West Equatorial Africa. It certainly had spread far beyond that in Africa long before it became statistically significant in the US, shortly after 1980.


Are you suggesting information was suppressed? Why would that be?

You wondering whether to spit or swallow?

Sort of – it was an initiation ritual; one who wished to join the tribe had to ingest an intoxicating substance, and, while under its influence, kill a green monkey with one’s bare hands (green monkeys are nasty creatures, and this was likely to be a bloody business). Then, the candidate would spend a night with one of the tribe’s women whose husband had died (whether as a reward or a further test is uncertain).

The confusion in this case, which took years to clear up, was the result of an early anthropologist who insisted on undergoing the ritual. He remembered very little after ingesting the intoxicant, but he came to with a lot of scratches on his arms and legs; he’s pretty sure they stopped him before he strangled the widow.

One thing to remember is that it’s entirely possible - perhaps even likely - that HIV founds it way to human populations through a number of different avenues.

Left to its own devices, HIv just isn’t all that virulent - it’s not like influenza, which can (and has) transmitted itself through huge populations just through aerosol infections. With something like HIV, infecting one person is much more likely to lead to a dead end reproductively. To have created the pandemic that now exists, it seems HIV would have had to enter into human populations many times.

I’m not a biologist or a doctor - just an interested layperson who’s done a bit of reading.