Biology Ebola virus Ebola virus disease

Ebola Virus Disease. Do Something. Now.

This Wired article about Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) comes to me via one of my favourite biologists. Here is a quote (from the article, not my friend) that should make you pay attention.

“I’ve spent enough time around public health people, in the US and in the field, to understand that they prefer to express themselves conservatively. So when they indulge in apocalyptic language, it is unusual, and notable.

“When one of the most senior disease detectives in the US begins talking about ‘plague,’ knowing how emotive that word can be, and another suggests calling out the military, it is time to start paying attention.”

Time for real talk.

If you’ve dumped ice water on your head or you’ve been angrily posting articles from Haaretz or al-Jazeera about Israelis and Palestinians lobbing explosive devices at each other… you are entirely justified, but this outbreak in west Africa has already killed more people than the 2014 bombing of Gaza, and almost as many as will die from ALS this year.

If your response is, “well, ALS still kills more people,” understand that this Ebola virus outbreak is growing literally exponentially, doubling in size every three weeks, and is currently out of control… and it has a fatality rate of about 75%, which means if you contract this strain of rapidly-mutating Ebola virus, you have a 1 in 4 chance of surviving it. Just wait a week or two and we’ll blow past the ALS numbers like they were standing still.

The most recent estimates for this outbreak, released at the end of last week, are that between 77,000 and 280,000 people could become infected. The number was three at the beginning of this year. In March, it was about one hundred. It’s now over 5000 confirmed cases (it’s probably much higher; many people aren’t reporting it because they don’t want to go to the hospital) now, in mid-September. In the next four months, by the end of the year, it could be somewhere between 77,000 and and 280,000.

Just to be clear, Ebola virus doesn’t go dormant on New Year’s Eve. If we don’t do something… do the math yourself.

The virus has already shown up in Nigeria, carried there by airplane, some 2,000 kilometers from where it started. The maximum incubation period for this species of Ebola is about three weeks (though eight to ten days is much more common, and two days is the fastest they’ve seen), which means someone could have it and not know it for three weeks. I’ve booked flights with less notice than that. Heck, I’ve booked flights with less notice than two days.

Do you want a political cause to be indignant about? Something that will take the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people, and irrevocably alter the lives of tens or hundreds of thousands of others, in countries with failing or failed health systems?  Something with no cure? Something that involves religious superstition, government ineptitude, and a lack of reasonable media coverage? Here’s a ready-made cause for you.

Ebola doesn’t care what race you are, or what religion you are, how much money you make, or anything like that. Its only job is to replicate itself, finding a new host, and probably killing its host in the process. And it’s really fucking good at its job.

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