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It has been going around that the US government was responsible for creating Ebola in order to test their Bioweapons as stated by CBS news:

The largest newspaper in Liberia published a conspiracy theory accusing the United States of intentionally engineering the Ebola and AIDS viruses in bioterrorism research labs and infecting Africans with the virus through vaccinations.

This seems a little off the wall. Is there actually any evidence to disprove this?

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    The original claim is located in The Liberian Daily Observer. – Is Begot Oct 24 '14 at 19:53
  • I'm not surprised that something like this came up. While I was researching my answer to another Ebola question I learned that there is a fair bit of distrust of Western medicine in the area, so they blame the US as a scapegoat. – Rob Watts Oct 24 '14 at 20:45
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    Not exactly a proof, but a sanity check: what would be a point of a biological weapon that takes months to infect a significant number of people? And you'd better have a cure, since it now threatens to affect all countries, much faster than we'd like to imagine. – Hans-Peter Störr Oct 28 '14 at 19:33
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EBOV, SUDV, RESTV, TAFV, and BDBV1

The natural reservoir for ebolaviruses is undetermined[1], but the current hypothesis is bats, as several bat species have been discovered capable of carrying the disease without getting sick[2].

Index cases of filovirus family disease outbreaks are relatively easy to determine, and in almost every outbreak since 1976, the index case has been a single person handling an infected animal. (The exception being a combination of MARV and RAVV2 at the Durba gold mine in 1998[1].) If ebolaviruses were distributed to Africans via US vaccinations, there would not be singular index cases for the outbreaks.

HIV and AIDS3

It is generally accepted that the two types of HIV are mutations of two types of SIV[3]. Hunters and vendors of "bushmeat" are frequently exposed to and contract SIV[4], and although SIV is a comparatively weak disease that can be destroyed by the human immune system, repeated exposure over a short time period can mutate it into HIV – multiple cases of this mutation process has led to multiple subtypes of HIV. (Also note that apparently SIV is only found in African apes and monkeys, hence the concentration in and spread of HIV in Africa[3].)

There are two major theories about the spread of HIV, which requires high-risk transmission channels:

Colonialism in the early 1900s

According to some genetic studies of HIV, it may date back to approximately 1910[5]. Colonial cities in Africa in that time period had high incidences of prostitution and genital ulcer disease[6]; up to 45% of the female population of Kinshasa worked as prostitutes in the 1920s. The combination of the promiscuity and ulcers vastly increases the incidence and risk of HIV transmission.

Unsafe medical practices after WWII

During the 1950s, multiple use metal syringes were rapidly replaced with single use plastic syringes. However, in the developing world (including sub-Saharan Africa), many of these plastic syringes were used repeatedly, often without even attempts to sterilize them[7]. Additionally during the period, UNICEF launched an eradication campaign against Yaws, such that by the mid-60s 75% of sub-Saharan households had received an injection within a two-week period. Combined, this may have been the impetus for or assisted the existing spread of HIV.

Conclusion

  • I am confident in stating that the chance that the US manufactured any ebolavirus or any variant of HIV is zero.
  • I am confident in stating that the chance that the US was responsible for the spread of any ebolavirus is zero.
  • The US is not solely responsible for the spread of HIV via vaccinations. However, there is a possibility that vaccination campaigns launched by the UN in the 1950s and 60s may have inadvertently spread HIV among the population (and as a member of the UN, US citizens most certainly helped in at least some parts of those campaigns).

    It should be noted, however, that the unsafe medical practices which would have directly contributed to the spread of HIV were generally conducted by Africans with little or no medical training in the wake of the breakup of European colonialism.


Abbreviations

  1. EBOV: Ebola virus
    SUDV: Sudan virus
    RESTV: Reston virus
    TAFV: Taï Forest virus
    BDBV: Bundibugyo virus
  2. MARV: Marburg virus
    RAVV: Ravn virus
    These two diseases are in the filovirus family, but they are not ebolaviruses.
  3. HIV: Human immunodeficiency virus
    AIDS: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome
    SIV: Simian immunodeficiency virus

References

  1. Ecologic and Geographic Distribution of Filovirus Disease
  2. Questions and Answers about Ebola and Pets
  3. Origins of HIV and the AIDS Pandemic
  4. Central African Hunters Exposed to Simian Immunodeficiency Virus
  5. Direct Evidence of Extensive Diversity of HIV-1 in Kinshasa by 1960
  6. High GUD Incidence in the Early 20th Century Created a Particularly Permissive Time Window for the Origin and Initial Spread of Epidemic HIV Strains
  7. Serial human passage of simian immunodeficiency virus by unsterile injections and the emergence of epidemic human immunodeficiency virus in Africa (pdf)
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    Thank you. There are rarely disproofs for this sort of thing, but this is as close as possible. I'm convinced! – Ellie Kesselman Oct 25 '14 at 8:03

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