Though I’m the farthest thing from a stereotypical history buff, I’m fascinated by ancient civilizations, especially the variety that purportedly vanished under a cloak of intrigue. Anasazi, Olmec, Minoan, Nabateans, Moche. As you read more about them, their disappearances seem more legitimate and evolutionary than conspiracy theorists care to admit. But without a time machine, we can’t really say for sure what happened thousands of years ago.
And this line of inquiry piques my curiosity about the ultimate fate of our own fragile species on earth. Drought, meteors, earthquakes, or will it be something more home-grown and insidious, like an organism? Maybe something too microscopic for our eyes to detect, though wielding an unspeakable power over our physiology, immunity, and strength.
Like a virus.
What is the root cause of the mishandling of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa so far? Is it an internal, organizational breakdown, a lack of education to the local population about the threat, or a perilous political funding dilemma? Can we continue to blame escalating death toll on operational logistics like containment, or is it always about money? The GOP and Tea Party will no doubt continue to oppose broad funding for institutions like the WHO and CDC. So I wonder, then, what Ebola is now revealing about how our political divisions are hindering progress and preventing us from fighting back on the same team. Look at Ebola 2014’s track record so far…how much more time do we really have to waste?
Look at things like the Black Death which, in the 1300s, claimed up to 200 million lives. The cause? A pathogen (yersenia pestis) carried by rat fleas and spread by contact with exposed animals. In 1300, we didn’t know that washing your hands with soap and water could protect our health. And cigarette smoking in the early to mid 1900’s – no one knew it was harmful back then. Now we know. And in 2014 in the absence of budgetary allocation, education and awareness are the strongest tools we have.
Black Death (Yersinia pestis)
H1N1 (swine flu)
Mimivirus, the largest and possibly the oldest virus on earth
The reality: viruses such as Ebola are smart, more than smart. They learn. They can adapt, and change. A virus mutates for the same reasons any other organism mutates – to survive. Host organisms are not passive observers of this process either. The host, a human body in the case of Ebola, will constantly deploy strategies to prevent viral infection. So the next time the virus comes in contact with a host cell, it may have issues attaching itself to the cell’s surface membrane. To compensate for this temporary setback, the virus could change its surface proteins to essentially trick the host into allowing it to attach. Scary. Sort of like Star Trek shield modulations to prevent a sensor lock by an enemy species.
What this means is that Ebola could, at some point, mutate into something more easily transmittable, and with that comes unthinkable possibilities. So until we discover a cure, Ebola comes to gives us another chance to pay attention, to hear her wisdom, to learn to listen to each other, and to change.