July 30, 2014
I have been fascinated by the strange world of viruses ever since I read “The Hot Zone” in 1995 by Richard Preston, “a terrifying true story” as he called it.
The story focuses on Ebola, Marburg (both filoviruses) and a mutated form of Ebola called Reston ebolavirus for the city in Virginia where it was first discovered. This is a variety of the virus that does NOT transmit to humans but is spread more easily than the other forms. It was spreading within a primate research facility which has since been torn down. The main message was that viruses adapt, change, kill quickly and move on. Luckily for us humans, if they kill too quickly, it is harder for them to spread. Haunting…
I am not trained in science or medicine – I am simply captivated by good storytelling and great subject matter. I have never forgotten that book.
Unfortunately West Africa is currently experiencing the worst outbreak of Ebola virus ever. Yes, ever. It is the most deadly strain – Zaire ebolavirus. And it IS spread from human to human, though NOT easily. Symptoms have to be present (they believe) for it to be contagious, and it is spread by contact with bodily fluids from a symptomatic person. It is likely, I read, that this outbreak has to do with a great many people eating soup made from infected bats.
Now a doctor in Sierra Leone and a doctor in Liberia have died from it and two American aid workers, a doctor and a hygienist are sick. They are friends of a missionary couple I know who work with them in Liberia. That couple has been in the states since before the outbreak, but are staying in touch with people there. They are due to return soon to Liberia.