My nightmares are becoming realities.
I am a biologist (semi-retired) with training in virology. My Ph.D. thesis concerned a retrovirus (Moloney murine leukemia virus) with a lot of similarities to HIV, although I did my thesis defense a decade before HIV was recognized.
The path of my research diverged to other things, but I have always kept an interest in viruses. Viruses, it seems to me, are the biggest threat to mankind, because they use our own cellular machinery against us. We have antibiotics to protect us against most bacterial infections, but anti-viral medicines that actually work are few, and viral evolution is very rapid. Viruses that have RNA genomes (HIV, Flu, Ebola) evolve even more rapidly because RNA polymerases or reverse transcriptases, in general, are more error prone than DNA polymerases.
Besides science and teaching, I have done some science writing, including publishing a book on nanotechnology. I have also written a novel (The Latter Day Adventures of Luis and Clark), so far unpublished. The premise of the novel is that a vaccine against HIV goes awry. The idea was to use an aerosol delivered flu virus to deliver an HIV protein, to which people would make antibodies. An unfortunate recombination event occurred resulting in an active respiratory HIV virus with the rapid action of a flu virus. Most of the people in the world died. The survivors were 99%+ male. Survival was unfortunate for most of the females.
The Ebola virus outbreak, while probably over-hyped in its threat the West, is a serious threat not only to Africa, but basically anywhere that medical care is sub-standard. Like previous outbreaks, this one probably started with animal to human transmission, but human to human infection seems to be much more effective than previously, possibly because of higher population density. And similar to my fictional work, 75% of the infected are female. This is not a quirk of the virus, but a result of cultural practices, wherein females are usually the caregivers. In this case, Africa is not unlike the rest of the world.
Why things just got worse below the elaborate orange squiggle.
The current Ebola epidemic is thought to have started in Guinea with a toddler who became infected in December of last year. Guinea is in West Africa whereas all previous epidemics have been in East Africa. And how does a child become infected? Current thinking is that the animal reservoir of Ebola is fruit bats. But fruit bats don't bite children and children don't slaughter fruit bats, so the actual transmission is a mystery. I will offer a theory: The virus is emitted in essentially all secretions, of which saliva is one. The child ate fruit that a bat had taken a bite out of. West African nations have all prohibited sales of bush meat. But how do you prohibit the consumption of fruit in an area where most people are undernourished?
In the current epidemic, Ebola has so far killed over 1300 people out of 2500 people infected. It is different than all other previous epidemics because, for the first time, Ebola is in the cities. Liberia has quarantined a huge slum called West Point (population 50,000-75,000) in its capital city of Monrovia because of the incidence of Ebola. Armed soldiers have prevented people from leaving or entering the area. Three people were injured in a confrontation with police, at least one of whom has died. So huge numbers of people are now imprisoned in a plague village without access to food or water. Most people relieve themselves on the beach, which barefoot children use as their playground. I have seen videos where relief workers are throwing baggies of drinking water over the barbwire. This is many times worse than Abert Camus imagined in his classic The Plague (Le Peste).
In the last few days, news broke that an ebola-like disease had emerged in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This was originally described as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, a disease not usually seen in human beings. The number of deaths was variously put at 10, 13, or 70, depending upon the source.
Today, theDRC has admitted that at least two of blood samples submitted were positive for Ebola. The region of the Congo that has seen this outbreak is where Ebola was first isolated in 1976.
The link between the Congo outbreaks and the West African outbreaks is unclear. But it now appears that we have essentially a pan-African epidemic with cases in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, and the DRC.
Just to make matters worse there are concurrent epidemics of cholera in Ghana and meningitis in Nigeria, with deaths in excess of those from Ebola.
Hate to get a recommended diary on such a depressing topic, but thanks anyway.