Ebola Discrimination
By R. D. Flavin

10-24-2014


                  
Domestic Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus. aka Cricetulus barabenis & Barabenis griseus) and a single Ebola VHF.

     It's estimated that some 322 species of vertebrates have gone extinct since ca. 1500, with an equal number of invertebrates (Dirzo et al. 2014). Deforestation is increasing which will continue to have devastating effects on Earth's biosphere (Monastersky 1993; Geist and Lambin 2002). Some are even referring to our current period as the 6th Mass Extinction event... Ouch! We repeat the Spencer-Darwinian “Survival of the Fittest” mantra and question cosmic karma. I understand why Congress is confused about Immigration Reform (it was because of the Canadians that the Brits burnt the White House in 1814), but travel bans? This is pure Ebola discrimination and yet no one is speaking up for the various Filoviridae and the other viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs). I'm unsure if this qualifies as a hate-crime or not. Catholics seek not to destroy Lucifer, but redeem him. Okay, I'll start taking my meds again...

     We're not really sure how viruses developed, that is, if they created themselves or evolved from bacteria or plasmids. We do know that there's more of them than us in both number and biomass and however we regard Mom Terra (Earth, third planet from Sol, etc.), it's their home and we're just visiting. Our word 'virus' is a 15th century Latin term meaning “poison,” and most befitting as it appears viruses live by killing or making their hosts sick. It's thought that the earliest Filoviridae (or filoviruses) split from the related marburgviruses 18-10 million years ago, as Chinese hamsters show ancient exposure in their genome and today there's even a somewhat 'weaker' form present in Asia. Some virologists are working with Chinese hamster embryos to develop a vaccine. There's so much we don't know...

     One team of doctors have proposed that the Plague of Athens in 430-427/425 BCE was the result of an ebola-like VHF (Olson et al. 1976). So, what were the filoviruses doing in their spare time? I mean, infecting hamsters, voles, rats, pigs, dogs, and fruit bats probably took some time, but I'm thinking they were working on their plan for global domination... It's just a guess.


2012 map of VHF areas.

     The renowned University of Chicago historian, Prof. William Hardy McNeill, specialized in world history with a keen interest in cultural fusion and interaction, though remained open to non-human influences on history such as disease (McNeill, W. H. 1976). His bold assessment of viral epidemics expanding extensively, but withdrawing at a certain point so as to leave some of their potential victims alive so a 'stock' could be replenished was helpful to epidemiologists. And then, of course, was the development of an 'antibody' by the host. McNeill wrote:

“Diseases that lack such a technique of survival and yet confront the drastic alternatives created by antibody reactions within the host's body have to rely on numbers for their survival. Numbers, that is, of potential hosts, among whom, if the total size of the community is sufficient, there will always be someone who has not yet had the disease and therefore remains susceptible to infection. Such parasites are, in all probability, rank newcomers in the time scale of biological evolution, even if ancient and immemorial on the time scale of human history (Ibid p. 50).”

     Though the Ebola VHF (formerly Zaire Ebola virus) is devastatingly lethal with a mere 10% survival rate (some would say 50%, but I believe that percentage to be psychologically manipulative with false optimism), 10% is better than zero. While there are several diseases which annually claim more lives than ebola, this is undoubtedly the scariest yet. And, with “Mad Scientist” apparently trending with whacks, corporate and military bio-engineers, and the End-of-the-World preppers, matters could easily get a lot more scary in a short amount of time.

     However, may Scully forgive me, what if we invoke and follow through with Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin's “survival of the fittest” and mankind ...doesn't make the final cut? Planet of the Apes was silly, we've all heard the story about cockroaches surviving nuclear warfare, but if the tiny organisms can live on the outside of the International Space Station and deep in active volcanoes, I'm thinking these are some pretty tough life-forms. And, isn't NASA scouring outer space hoping to find any organism or life-form even if it's on the same fatality level as ebola? Yeah, it's discrimination... We need some sort of LOCLU (Lethal Organism Civil Liberties Union)...

     I kid, of course. The proper classification for this sort of (attempted) humor is a formula joke about a current public topic. ANYTHING which threatens humans should be dealt with most expeditiously. If the ebola VHF wants to terrorize and kill African fruit bats, I suppose that's their business. However, once the disease spreads to humans it's a war of survival. I believe we can contain this current outbreak and also develop a vaccine, though such efforts are going to be very expensive and it's going to take monies from various governments and universities, corporate philanthropy, and the best of the pharmaceutical industry. It can,must, and will be done.

     And we need to stop cutting science budgets! I'm continually amazed that NASA seems to be doing more with less. We may live on the planet of the viruses, but it's time we get in shape so that we truly are the fittest. Discrimination? No, just fighting for our lives.

Bibliography:

Dirzo, R. et al. 2014. “Defaunation in the Anthropocene.” Science. 345, 6195: 401-406.

Geist, Helmut J. and Eric F. Lambin. 2002. “Proximate Causes and Underlying Driving Forces of Tropical Deforestation.” BioScience. 52, 2: 143-150.

Monastersky, Richard. 1993. “The Deforestation Debate.” Science News. 144, 2: 26-27.

Olson et al. 1996. “The Thucydides Syndrome: Ebola Déjà? (or Ebola Reemerged).By Olson, P. E., C.S. Hames, A.S. Benenson, and E. N. Genovese. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2,2: 155-156.

Washing my hands more than my feet,
Rick

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