Tuesday, October 14, 2014 – EBOLA!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014 – Ebola

Ebola! Just in time for Halloween. Except the outbreak is really scary. I do not mean to make light of the disease or the people who suffered and/or died from it. But let’s get in the Way Back Machine today and travel to Zaire to 1976. We told you then the potential for an outbreak, epidemic and possible pandemic could reach epic proportions. Haven’t you wondered why The Hot Zone is on high school reading lists across the nation? And it has been since I taught school in the 1970’s.

But hey, that was some country in Africa and we were celebrating 100 years of independence as a colony and did not care about those old colonial leftovers. Zaire was once known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. For that matter, it was once known as the Belgian Congo. I think. More about that tomorrow. The disease is named for The Ebola River which was said to be near the town or village Yambuku where the virus first appeared in 1976. The Centers for Disease Control scientists did not want to stigmatize Yambuku by naming the disease after it and other rivers close by were already used for other virus names and other weird stuff coming out of the jungles. Turns out The Ebola River wasn’t that close to Yambuku, but the scientists “were too tired to rename the virus.” Really! How is that for confidence in the people supposed to take care of this? But The Ebola River fittingly means Black River.

Let’s travel back to Africa to the 1980’s when a strange, new virus that responded to no known treatment emerged from the deepest darkest areas of the Dark Continent. This obviously is not your father’s Tarzan movie.

People panicked. How was it spread? Science and medicine were clueless. Prejudices emerged. Facilities were unprepared. Sensationalistic journalism appeared.  And The Band Played On. The virus became known as HIV and the disease became known as AIDS. If you read And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts you read that treatments were relatively readily available shortly after the initial identification, but lack of global cooperation between researchers, bureaucracies of multiple, often conflicting world-wide agencies, and the personalities and egos of lead scientists caused years of delays in “finding” the treatments.

Because of the history, we are better prepared to deal with the ebola outbreak today. And because those who do not remember or understand history are doomed to repeat it, we are dealing with a crisis again.

So forgive me if my reaction to the ebola outbreak is this:

  1. Did we not tell you that Africa was a Hot Zone in Zaire and other countries on the continent years ago?
  2. Haven’t we done this panic to disease from Africa before?
  3. Wow, suddenly there is a miracle cure or treatment.
  4. What mega pharmaceutical companies manufacture and profit from the treatment?
  5. And the Nobel Prize for Medicine goes to…

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