Doctors worry that AIDS drugs may do harm

June 05, 1993|By Newsday

As researchers gather in Berlin for the Ninth International Conference on AIDS, many see growing evidence that once-promising approaches to fighting the disease may be useless or even harmful.

Emerging new knowledge about the AIDS virus is making it harder to decide how to treat infected people, they say, and raising fears that use of AZT and other anti-viral drugs may be promoting more virulent strains of the virus.

"I'm not at all sure what to give my patients, when to give it, how to combine drugs, or which patients are most likely to benefit from what treatments," Dr. Paul Volberding, a leading U.S. AIDS physician, told colleagues last month at a Harvard AIDS Institute gathering.

As a result of such uncertainty, many are seeking new approaches. A number of researchers -- including Dr. Jonas Salk -- are focusing on people who may have developed a kind of natural immunity to AIDS. This form of immunity is so new to science that little is known about how to safely produce it. And if the theory proves true, it could mean that all the vaccines now being tested may actually worsen the disease.

Others, particularly public health officials, say that science's inability to deal with AIDS to date makes it more urgent to find ways to change the behavior that spreads AIDS.

Reports from all these fronts will be presented at the five-day AIDS conference, which begins Monday. It is expected to draw 15,000 scientists, public health officials and activists -- many seeking clarity in a murky scientific picture.

One of the chief controversies is whether AZT, the most widely used anti-AIDS drug, slows the disease and death in infected people.

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