JUNE 24, 1983 / MONTROSE VOICE 17
Delta Agent: A Scenario
By Harvey Thompson, M.D.
(Editor's Note: This month Dr. Thompson
departs from a strictly factual column to
indulge in a bit of medical science fiction.
It's an intriguing connection of several
bits of factual information that affect all
of us which may raise important questions
in your mind.)
New York Gays had vactioned in Haiti
for years. Creole Charlie always said it
was because he and his fellow Haitians
were French instead of Spanish like the
Dominicans next door, or English like
Jamaicans further south. Whatever the
reason, it was common knowledge that
you could pick up one of the easy-going
Haitian hustlers off the beaches of Port-
au-Prince for the cost of a drink and a U.S.
$10 bill. By the late 70s, it had become such
a populor vaction spot that there were all-
gay cruises to Haiti each winter.
In 1977 there was an explosion at a top-
secret Russian biological lab in Sverdlovsk that contaminated the surrounding
countryside. An epidemic of deadly
anthrax broke out a few weeks later; the
government ofthe United States officially
asked for an explanation.
By 1978, the U. S. Department of
Defense permitted its Biological Warefare
Division to clone Pseudomonas exotoxin
by recombinant DNA experiments. It was
no secret that the United States was loosening up on its observance of the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975, In the
Congressional Record of the next year,
botulism, anthroex cholera, and diphtheria were listed as the bacterial toxins currently under study.
But the real interest was in viruses They
were much more difficult to detect, and far
easier to transmit. At any rate, the Biological Weapons Convention had never actu
ally barred research into possible agents,
only development of new ones.
From Brazil 1979 came reports of a mysterious "Delta Agent" that turned ordinary viruses like hepatitis-B into
dangerous killers. The combination was
deadly; more than half the victims ofthe
Brazilian epidemic died.
Delta Agent was frightening; it had
never been isolated, and could only be
detected through a complex antibody test
in research labs. It seems to be a tiny,
But also in 1979, the U.S. Public Health
Service opened an office in Port au-Prince
to study the African Swine Fever virus
that was decimating the entire pig population of Haiti. With Cuba only 20 miles
away, the concern was that the U.S.S.R.
was backing Castro with biological warfare aimed at creating economic and
social unrest in Haiti.
Security was tightened when news came
of the Brazilian "killer hepatitis." The
Public Health Service began an investigation of the second epidemic. When the
Delta Agent was finally isolated, the information went straight to the Surgeon General's office, stamped "TOP SECRET:
C. Everett Koop was appointed Surgeon
General by President Ronald Reagan in
1980. The appointee had made a famous
statement the year before; he had warned
that Gay Rights would lead to the production of "100,000 homosexual and lesbian
test-tube babies to give the gay movement
more political clout." A few gay leaders
took him seriously enough to wonder
about his mental stability, and began calling him "Dr. Kook," worrying about what
he had in mind for gay health.
But the medical community had always
learned from the gay community. Some
bigoted investigators privately referred to
gays as "giddy guinea pigs." The
hepatitis-B vaccine had been developed
only because of gay willingness to serve as
Gay blood was teaching medical investigators a lot about viruses in general. One
such virus—Cytomegalovirus—was ubiquitous in the gay community. It had long
before been found incorporated into the
DNA of a rare cancer called Kaposi's sarcoma, and was known to be a potent suppressor of the immune system.
Yet generally, CMV was a relatively
benign virus that at worst left the victim
feeling tired for a few weeks, as if he had
Mononucleosis. Still, it had long been
thought that viruses had some link to
cancer, possibly causing it. President
Nixon badly wanted to prove this connection and earn the title of "the President
who had cured cancer."
Meanwhile, Creole Charlie, like all the
hustlers on the beaches of Haiti was feeling the effects ofthe slipping economy in
the United States. His friends used to call
him "C.C." for his initials, but lately they
had changed that to "G.C." because he
was always getting the clap, and the
Tetracycline tabs he bought at the pharmacy didn't work all that well any more.
His doctor called him "Juan-pepitas-de-
manzana"—"Johnny Appleseed." Charlie didn't know the story of the man who
spread apple trees all over the United
States; he thought the name came from
the fact that he had met the doctor while
eating an apple.
The hustlers all knew that Americans
had the best medicines. Their shots
seemed especially good for the "maladies
venereales" that they often caught from
Yankee tricks. So, when the American doctor in the expensive suite offered him $100
to participate in something he called "vaccine trails," Charlie was only too happy to
Charlie's arm was still sore as he walked
away from the office of the U.S. Public
Health Service in the new building just
constructed for the Agency For International Development, Sudamerica. All the
people had been very nice, especially the
doctor who had brought him to the nice big
office behind a door marked "Project
The doctor had unlocked his black
leather bag and brought out the vaccine
himself; he said it was a "new kind of penicillin," and Charlie could tell it was expensive stuff because it was inside a special
metal cylinder with red labels all over it.
Charlie was feeling great about the day.
He was going to get well, he had $100 in
his pocket, and there was a whole shipload
of New York gays just pulling into port.
Business was looking up, and he should be
able to grab a large part of it while the shot
was still working. Thank God for America!
And AIDS began in Haiti.
Medical science fiction? Yet the following parts are true: Delta Agent, Dr. Koop
and his quote, the information on CMV,
the African Swine Fever epidemic, the portion on biological welfare, and the health
office in Haiti.
The last section can't be proved: Creole
Charlie died last year. Of Kaposi's sarcoma.
'1983 Stonewall Features Syndicate