I was going to follow up last week’s post on Aqua with several ways to purify and filter water in an emergency but I’ve been following something else which frightens me to my core. After reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston I’ve thought the greatest threat to our humanity was a virus gone out of control.
Ever since I’ve been able to customize my Google News page with custom searches I’ve had topics like the Boston Bruins, Earthquake, Ultramarathon, and yes, Ebola. People have often asked me what scares me the most and it’s this very thing, the thing you can not see and have very little defense against. The Virus. Not the common cold, but deadly virus’ such as Ebola virus, Sudan virus, Marburg virus and Ravn virus.
As of Friday, there have been 4,784 cases of Ebola, with 2,400 deaths, according to the World Health Organization, which says the virus is spreading at an exponentially faster rate now than it was earlier in the outbreak.
If and when Ebola hits our shores it will most likely not get far. The health care system in the United States is far better than most of the world and the American public (I can’t believe I’m saying this) is far better educated than the rest of the world also. In saying this I mean most everyone in the US knows what a virus is and would not likely run away from a health care worker with the fear they are trying to steal ones blood which is what radio announcers are broadcasting and is the current belief among people in Africa.
This is of course if Ebola stays in it’s present state, the virus spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as blood and vomit. In it’s present state one mathematical model has been run and the results are frightening. The World Health Organization says the virus won’t be brought under control till 20,000 people have become infected. Most emergency facilities in Africa are over run with only 4,500 cases reported. WHO says they need at least 1,000 beds at one Doctors without Borders facility in Monrovia, Liberia but only have 240. Because of the overflow they are being forced to turn infected people away and back into their communities. With this information the mathematical model projects 1.2 million deaths in Africa within the next 6 months. This is if the virus stays in its present state.
But some of the Nation’s top health experts are worried this virus could mutate and become airborne.
The Ebola virus is an RNA Virus, which means every time it copies itself it makes one or two mutations. Most of the time these are nothing, the equivalent of one puppy having a spot on it’s nose and another from the same litter not. But occasionally, rarely, one in a billion mutations something big happens like a fish learns to use it’s fins to walk.
When the outbreak began news organizations were reporting that there has never been an Ebola outbreak in the United States, but this is wrong. In 1989 there was an outbreak at a research facility in Reston, Virginia of Ebola Reston, which was transmitted among monkeys by breathing. The virus became so out of control so quickly soon the entire population of monkeys was infected in separate wings of the facility where airflow wasn’t even supposed to have been able to go. This was a class V research facility, meaning the highest level of containment for research. The entire population had to be euthanized. We were very close to an outbreak here on American soil which would have been unrecoverable.
In 2012, Canadian researchers found that Ebola Zaire, which is involved in the current outbreak, was passed from pigs to monkeys in the air. That is the frightening part, that this very strain was mutated and able to jump from one species to another.
A group of researchers looked at the evolution of the ebola virus involved in the current outbreak in just one small area in Sierra Leone and has determined there have been over 300 significant changes in the virus already. They did the study earlier in this outbreak and WHO officials now say it’s spreading at a much greater rate. One of the problems is no one is tracking these mutations now when mutations are happening at hyper speed.
If the above mathematical model is correct and there is an explosion in the next 6 months to 1.2 million deaths. Conservative estimates of Ebola having a 50% mortality rate means at least 2.4 million would become infected. The rate of mutations will explode and the chances of it going airborne will increase hourly until we get a handle on the outbreak.
“It’s the single greatest concern I’ve ever had in my 40-year public health career,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “I can’t imagine anything in my career — and this includes HIV — that would be more devastating to the world than a respiratory transmissible Ebola virus.”