Letter to Science

Letter to the editor about The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS

Science, 24 December 1999, Volume 286, page 2449

Responding to The River

In the book The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS (Little, Brown, 1999), author Edward Hooper suggests that we covertly used chimpanzee cells to produce the live oral polio vaccine (OPV) that was used in the first mass campaign with OPV in the former Belgian Congo. Hooper postulated that the cells contained a simian immunodeficiency virus that later mutated to human immunodeficiency virus.

In his review of The River (Science’s Compass, 12 Nov., p. 1305), Robin Weiss expresses skepticism about the book’s basic hypothesis. His skepticism is well founded, because no chimpanzee cells were ever used by us to make OPV. Data bearing on this point are being collected and will be published in a scientific journal. It is thus ironic that the year 2000 will be the 50th anniversary of the first trials in humans of an OPV (1), and also the year in which polio will perhaps be eradicated, thanks to the use of mass campaigns of vaccination such as the ones performed in the then Belgian Congo (2, 3) and in the then Soviet Union (4).

Stanley A. Plotkin* 
 Department of Pediatrics, 
 University of Pennsylvania, 
 Doylestown, PA 18901, USA  
 Hilary Koprowski 
 Thomas Jefferson University, 
 Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA  
 *Emeritus professor


1. H. Koprowski, G. A. Jervis, T. W. Norton, Am. J. Hyg. 55, 108 (1952).

2. G. Courtois, A. Flack, G. A. Jervis, H. Koprowski, G. Ninane, Br. Med. J. 1958 (no. 2), 187 (1958).

3. S. A. Plotkin and H. Koprowski, Live Poliovirus Vaccines: Proceedings from the First international Conference on Live Poliovirus Vaccine (scientific publication no. 44, Pan Am Sanitary Bueau, Washington, DC, 1959), pp. 419-436.

4. M. P. Chumakov et al., Bull. WHO 25, 79 (1961).