|Tainted Blood -
A Frightening Possibility
FEBRUARY 1, 1976
This was Doctor Adolf Troutmann's second trip to Africa. His first was almost twenty years earlier as a medical graduate doing research work at a British hospital in Tangier, Morocco. There he learned the mysteries and customs of the Arabic world of northern Africa; now destiny called and he was about to embark upon the desolate and exotic world of central Africa.
Troutmann could not get comfortable in the small, single-engine Cherokee Six aircraft. Before takeoff, the obliging pilot removed one of the second row seats so the seven-foot doctor could stretch his legs during the flight from Nairobi to Kasensero, Uganda.
Once airborne, Troutmann bent his head down to see majestic Kilimanjaro, snow peaked and cloud shrouded, directly to the south. Herds of roaming elephants plodded towards the cool mountain, seeking relief from the hot, arid uplands. Lake Victoria sparkled a light, silvery blue in the distance. Mount Elgon, where the U. S. Army scientists thought the dreaded Marburg and Ebola filoviruses originated, lay about three hundred miles to the northwest. A thousand feet below, a pack of hungry hyenas loped after a crippled gazelle and fat, muddy rivers curled like pythons. Off to the north, sugar-cane fields stretched for miles. Further in the distance he could see a rising verdant belt of jungle, which he was sure was full of the green monkeys he used in the National Cancer Institute (NCI) research lab back home.
The plane's cabin was warm and confining. Troutmann removed the jacket of his pinstriped blue and white seersucker suit. He wore no tie and quickly undid the top two buttons of his white Polo shirt. He was drenched in perspiration.
After an hour and a half they decended into the city of Kisumu to pick up a virologist who had been working for the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) project at Kitum Cave, at the base of Mount Elgon. Troutmann had just gotten comfortable and didn't want to get out, so the pilot radioed the control tower and asked the new passenger, Major Alice Allen, PhD., to bring aboard cold Cokes for all.
Major Allen hopped aboard and laid a warm six-pack of bottles and an opener on the empty co-pilots seat. Her military-issue cap had brushed against the roof and tilted down over her nose, exposing close cropped, dishwater-brown hair. She pushed the cap up and set it straight. She secured it by pinning two gold-colored bobby pins into the cap and her hair; then heaved up into the plane a large black valise with a red Biohazard-3 symbol pasted on its side. Troutmann blanched and sat up straight. What the hell was going on? She was transporting lethal infectious waste!
The pilot and field crew topped the fuel tanks and they were quickly on their way. Troutmann was deep in thought. He stared at a fly on the face of the small rectangular window. He reached up and grabbed a Coke, then roughly flipped the top off the bottle with the opener. Fizzy foam shot up from the neck and streaked down his shirt. He swore beneath his breath and quickly sucked the rest of the foam from the top. The fly, instinctively triggered by the sweet smell, started buzzing energetic Immelmann loops under Troutmann's chin. He swatted it dead -- then popped it in his mouth! For the remainder of the flight he made no effort to speak to the dozing Major Allen; however, he did sneak sideway glances at the graceful curves of her legs flowing out from her pressed, tan Bermudas.
The plane flew in a semi-circle around the northern shores of Lake Victoria, then headed southwest past the Sese Islands and into a grass landing strip at the fishing village of Kasensero. The circuitous trip was about six hundred and fifty miles and took them better than half a day.
Troutmann was stiff and exhausted. He had little rest in Niarobi during his layover from Washington, D.C. Disembarking, he unfolded like a concertina from the small, cramped quarters of the fueslage and stepped down onto the turf runway and into the central African landscape. He extended his hand to help the young doctor, carefully avoiding the black valise she was carrying. She frowned and refused to be helped. Probably a bull dyke, he thought. Troutmann then stretched his arms over his head and tilted backwards to get the kinks out. The skinny mongrel dogs who chased the plane as they landed, howled as the pilot wound the hot Lycoming engine to a halt. A cacophony of African sounds greeted him. Gibbons screeched eerily in the distant podo trees, cockatoos whistled and clucked from nearby indogo and bamboo thickets, cicadas rubbed their wings, droning their mating call from swamp reeds. The sun was a huge yellow glare and heat rolled in waves over the short landing strip. A dozen semi-clad natives sat quietly on their haunches under the shade of a tin-roofed quonset hut, staring at the tall man. Major Alice Allen ignored everyone, and with her Biohazard-3 bag bumping her sides, headed briskly for the building and her USARMIID companion waiting in the shadows. Troutmann picked up the sizable medical bag he had stashed on an empty seat and starting walking towards the hut. Unbeknownst to Major Allen, or anyone else, Troutmann too was transporting a deadly agent. AIDS. He was a walking viral time bomb.
His gait was a crab-like waddle. He had long hanging arms, giant flat feet, size 20 AAA, and his congenital scoliosis had curved his spine at an odd angle, so he appeared tilted to the right as he walked. Once off the runway, he stopped to put a khaki hat on his slightly balding head for protection against the beating sun. Sweat poured from his face. He removed his thick yellow-tinted glasses and wiped them clean with a white hankerchief.
The dogs were now nipping at his heels. He gave one a hard kick in its bony ribs and the pack scurried off, yelping. He then replaced his glasses by bending the pliable metal stems over his ears and turned towards the squatting, staring people. His harelip and protruding teeth inadvertently grinned at the natives, who giggled and pointed at his face. He had suffered similar reactions whenever he visited new places in his travels, so he pointed back at them and laughed. He could hear boisterous voices and the thumping rythmn of overhead fans in the quonset hut, and he entered the cool building.
... During Zelda Troutmann's pregnancy in 1932, she read and reread Hitler's Mein Kampf. She was mesmerized by the German's fierce philosophy. It so matched her own beliefs that she was filled with eagerness to raise her newborn with these same shared ideals. On Easter Sunday, 1933, Zelda went into labor and Herman Troutmann asked to act as mid-wife. Upon hearing it was a boy, Zelda immediately named the child after her idol. During the birth, however, Herman was so destroyed by the hideous face and grotesque form of the baby boy that greeted him, that he suffered a heart attack and died. Baby Adolf became one of the few who could claim that his father had died in childbirth.
Zelda was poor and a seamstress by trade. She and Adolf lived in a small but tidy third floor apartment in upper Manhattan, on the border of Harlem. Adolf was the only white child in his class. He was deformed, ungainly and considered repulsive by all but Zelda. Devotedly, she made a racist, bigot and intellectual giant out of her fatherless son. He became a straight-A student, an accomplished violinist and a decent artist, but was a complete failure in athletics. Although he loved girls, none ever reciprocated. He soon realized his physical afflictions prevented him from attaining a normal relationship with a woman. When he became a six-foot ten gangly teenager, a junior high basketball coach talked Zelda into letting him coach Adolf to help him with his coordination.
In time, the coach used twisted affection to persuade Adolf to allow him to perform oral sex. Then pulled the boy's pants down and sodimized him. Repulsed and hurt, Adolf swallowed the hard stones of his feelings as they turned to hate.
His misery intensified as his obvious lack of talent led him to contribute nothing to the team. He just sat on the end of the bench every game. One night after practice, in the darkness of the school's hallways, three of his black teammates told him what a freak he was, beat him up and burned his genitals with cigarettes. He never told a soul of these attacks, but he came to feel Zelda was right in what she had taught him. Negroes and homosexuals were evil and should be exterminated. He studied hard, went to Columbia University, then to medical school -- there, he felt, he could gain the knowledge he would need if he was ever to create that revenge.
Entering the airfield quonset hut, Troutmann was greeted heartily by a group of beer-drinking medical collegues from Washington who had been sent into Africa before him. He ordered a Heiniken and quaffed the cold brew. Enthusiastically, they brought him up to date on the viral scare in the area while they shared a late snack -- pieces of grilled crocodile tail -- which Troutmann wolfed down. It seemed a young nurse named, Mayinga, had died of the deadliest known strain of Ebola virus yet discovered. She bled to death in Zaire, but they were able to save samples of her blood and tissue and a military courier was in the process of transfering those samples to Washington that very day. Major Allen! Troutmann, his distorted mouth hanging open and ringed with unwiped crocodile grease, took in every word. Then they all piled into a rusted-out Land Rover and drove to the local hospital.
Earlier, in December and January, when the new Mayinga strain appeared, the World Health Organization (WHO) and USAMRIID felt they had a potential epidemic and world catastrophe on their hands in central Africa. Numerous indigenous tribes, and a few foreigners in an isolated area around the northern shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya and Uganda, had also died suddenly of the dreaded Marburg and Ebola viruses. Viruses so insidious that you are usually dead within two weeks of exposure.
Your demise starts with splitting headaches behind the eyes, then a debilitating backache. By the third or fourth day you vomit until you get the dry heaves. Then your face is paralysed, your eyeballs turn red as they fill with blood, your skin turns yellow and you grow demented. After a week, you start vomiting black blood, which stinks of internal rot. The virus then begins to liquefy the internal flesh of the body. Blood oozes from every orifice, from the tear ducts to the anus. Clots form in your guts and your brain starts rotting, within the next week your visceral organs are rotten. You puke and defecate them out as blood and you die of horror and pain that defies description.
The USARMIID says that the victims "crash and burn" and they call these viruses, "hot viruses." BIOHAZARD MATERIAL! All personnel must be outfitted in Chemturion biological spacesuits before they enter any area where the viruses are being worked on. The scientists are terrified of these viruses because they can be airborne -- the easiest and most lethal way to infect humans. One sneeze from a single infected individual could potentially generate a world-wide pandemic. At the USARMIID lab in Fort Detrick, Maryland, a desparate race is on to find a vaccine for these viruses. Marburg is stored in their BioSafety-Level-4, an area restricted to hot agents for which there is no known vaccine or cure. Ebola virus is so deadly that it has its own biocontainment area, known as AA-5, at the same laboratory. Most scientists think you're nuts if you go in there under any conditions.
Adolf Troutmann had risen to become one of the world's foremost virologists at the National Cancer Institute in Fort Detrick and had been working in coordination with the WHO and USAMRIID on a vaccine for the Marburg virus for a number of years. He couldn't wait to do research in AA-5.
Troutmann wanted to try one of the vaccines he had developed on African "subships" -- i.e., human beings. It was a mixture of animal retroviruses, sheep visna and bovine leukemia, which in 1974 he had successfully grown in human tissue culture. He told superiors his theory: if he mixed his animal retroviruses, which change the genetic composition of the cells they enter, into any innoculating material, his vaccine could potentially create a change in DNA structure which would allow all newborns to be inbred with an immunity to whatever disease with which they were innoculated. If this turned out true, it would eliminate the logistical problem of vaccinating most of the population of the world against future diseases. At the time, his bosses thought Troutmann a genius. And since it was Africa where he would be doing the experimentation, they gave him the go-ahead.
Before Troutmann left for Africa he met with a former medical school collegue, Doctor Victor Zbrinski, then head of the New York City blood bank. He convinced Zbrinski to start using his mixture of animal retroviruses in Hepatitis B vaccine for gays suffering from this lethal disease. As the homosexual population of the world was being decimated by hepatitis, Zbrinski was only too happy to work with Troutmann. Especially after Troutmann informed him that Zbrinski would be co-author on any publications regarding the test results and would share in any awards. Zbrinski was also led to believe that Troutmann had already done human experiments with his retroviruses, not just grown them in human tissue culture, and that Troutmann might be on his way to a Nobel prize in medicine.
Blinded by his desire for recognition, Zbrinski, immediately set up a voluntary program in New York City under Troutmann's guidance. He by-passed all normal rules, regulations and safety procedures regarding clinical testing of human subjects. He paid gays who were non-monogamous and between the ages of twenty and forty to be innoculated with the mixture of bovine leukemia and sheep visna retroviruses and Hepatitis B vaccine. Zbrinski then gathered data on the innoculated individuals over the next few years.
Upon arrival to the hospital in Kasensero, Troutmann unpacked his medical bag. He had brought along hundreds of small vials of his retrovirus mixture packed in Styrofoam. Each snap-off glass vial contained enough doses of retrovirus to vaccinate fifty people. He used the hospital laboratory to mix the contents with the Marburg and Ebola vaccine he and the USARMIID laboratories had been working on. He immediately started injecting as many of the local inhabitants as he could, using the same needle over and over again. Over the next three weeks, numerous people still died of the horrors of Marburg and Ebola, and in a short time, the scientists realized they did not have a vaccine. The teams of scientists returned to the confines of their laboratories in America. However, Troutmann begged to stay on in Tanzania. He plead his case by saying that his statistics showed a gradual decline of Marburg outbreak in the populace he had vaccinated. Allowed to stay for the duration of 1976, he passed the time by injecting Africans all around Lake Victoria by the thousands with his vaccine.
Medically, it was acquired immune deficiency. He nicknamed it AID. A clever, helpful-sounding accronyn he thought would encourage people to accept his vaccination. They did, in ever-increasing numbers. Unknowingly, destroying their T-cell system!
During the next two months Troutmann inoculated the entire villages of Kashenye and Bukwali in the remote province of Kagera, Tanzania, with his mixed vaccine. After finishing there, he went by boat, train and bus to the villages around the shores of Lake Victoria. He took the Kinshasa Highway from Kinshasa in Zaire through the sweltering jungles of the Congo to Kisangani and back to Nairobi for the remainder of 1976, innoculating everyone he could in every city and village he visited.
People were moved by Adolf Troutmann -- thinking him an odd, but magnanimous soul, dedicating his life to helping mankind. Many Africans wept upon his departure in September. World-wide health agencies expressed their eternal indebtedness for his tireless work. Gratefully, they sent Troutmann on to Brazil and Haiti to continue his vaccination program for another three months.
By Christmas of 1976, he returned in triumph to his laboratory in Maryland. Zbrinski was also a hero in the gay community for his compassion and relentless efforts. Privately, he worried because his test data showed no improvement with controlling Hepatitis B in homosexuals. Yet, he continued to innoculate gays in his paid-volunteer vaccination program until 1980.
In late 1980, an ominus occurence transpired. A disease began appearing in Kasensero and wiped out most of the inhabitants. The villages of Kashenye and Bukwali in Tanzania were hit next. By early 1981, people all along the Kinshasa Hihway were developing the same symptoms -- which carried all the hallmarks of AIDS. In particular, an unexpected collapse of immune system defenses in young adults had allowed fungal and other infections to run wild. Deaths began. In New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles a similar health crisis, called gay-related-immunodeficiency-disease (GRID), started cropping up. Health organizations, the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, doctors, nurses, UNICEF and voluntary workers rushed in to diagnose the problem in Africa and the United States.
Kenya, Uganda, Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco suddenly became the epicenters of AIDS.
* Periodic outbreaks of Marburg and Ebola continue around the world. The Ebola virus surfaced again in Zaire and the Philippines around 1980. Even the U. S. had a scare in the late eighties in Reston, Virgina, when the "Ebola hot virus" somehow escaped from the USARMIID lab in Fort Detrick during a monkey experiment. The USARMIID now stores those same blood viruses in their laboratory under the name of "Ebola Reston" virus.
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