bioengineering / science

The Bloody Death

Ebola is a frightening disease for many reasons. High fatality rate, high infectious rate, rapid travel through a community, strikes at those who are needed most in a health emergency… but perhaps the worst is the way you die, your organs a bloody soup. I’ve read a lot about Ebola, and it’s cousin the Marburg virus. I’ve been fascinated with infectious disease and parasites since I was a young woman, and it’s part of what influenced my current choice of degree in Microbiology.

I’ll never be a disease detective myself, because I can’t pursue a PhD (no time, no money) but I can follow the path of an epidemic from afar, and I can weave the threads of the threat and fear into my writing. I saw a comment online when someone posted about the recent outbreak “why don’t they just quarantine them until the disease runs it’s course?” And let me make this clear – restricting travel is well and good, but this person made it clear they thought we should simply shut off a corner of the world and let them all die.

First of all, what a horrifying, cruel thing to suggest. To sentence untold numbers of people to a slow, agonizing, horrible death, just so this person could feel like they weren’t threatened by a disease?

Secondly, it wouldn’t work. On July 28, the CDC reported “The World Health Organization, in partnership with the Ministries of Health in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, announced a cumulative total of 1201 suspect and confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) and 672 deaths, as of July 23, 2014. Of the 1201 clinical cases, 814 cases have been laboratory confirmed for Ebola virus infection.” These may look like small, obscure third-world countries, if you even bother to look at them on the map, but Africa is a big place, and the phrase ‘porous border’ was invented for it. These are people who travel without regard for national boundaries, sometimes as those mean little or nothing. They are people who have learned to travel in secret, fearing for their lives from warlords. But in Liberia in particular, they are also people who do have contact with the global networks.

The Gateway Pundit lays out specifics: “The Ebola death last week of Patrick Sawyer, a naturalized American citizen who was working for the government of his native Liberia raised worldwide fear as he was able to travel by passenger plane from Liberia to Nigeria with a layover in Togo on his way to an international conference without his condition being noted until he became seriously ill on approach to Lagos.”

If one man was on a plane and suffering from Ebola, there are more. There will be more. There is simply no practical way to cut off a population suffering from epidemic and let it run it’s course. If for no other reason than they are people who need care. Doctors without Borders is working with them, and dying along with them. What is needed instead is an awareness of the disease, so people who are traveling can be contained when they show symptoms, and research into preventions – which I realize there is very little that can be done, this is after all a virus, not a bacterium – to protect the broader world.

But killing off people wholesale isn’t the answer, even if it does make you feel falsely safer, anonymous internet person. Condemning them to a bloody death…

Look, these are the people with the mentality that makes them think they can rid the world of predators. Kate Paulk does a lovely rant on this article over at Mad Genius today. These are the people who told me one day when we were discussing the impact of the parasitic worm Ascaris on cognitive development mortality (they infect more than a third of the world’s population and significantly retard the cognitive development of children who are infected) that maybe it would be better if we didn’t find a way to protect those children from retardation and death. Maybe it would be better for the death rate to remain high, they said. If mortality drops too low, the Earth’s resources might be overwhelmed and then we would all die of starvation.

I sometimes want to explode and make my feelings on this known. Are you stupid, or something? Willfully ignorant? Have you no idea what you are truly saying? Advocating that mass populations die, so you can remain comfortable with your allocated lot of resources? Beyond the sheer shallow selfishness of such policies, it simply isn’t true… but this is getting long, and that’s a blog for another day, about truly sustainable and intensive (not Green, for goodness sakes!) agriculture, and the truth about how little surface of the Earth that we could use, we do use. We aren’t anywhere near running out of resources, and there is no need to condemn the unfortunates who live other than where we do to a bloody death.

To be continued…

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13 thoughts on “The Bloody Death

  1. Reasonable precautions would be nice though. Admitting there is an issue and keeping an eye on folks on air travel from the hot zone would be nice. WHO went ballistic over swine flu, but has so far been kinda meh about this.

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  2. If not quarantine, then what? It is arguable that the infection and subsequent death rates will be exponentially high among populations that have never been exposed to these diseases. If one must choose a population to die from the bloody death, is it not wiser to condemn the smallest possible group?

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    • Because this loon wasn’t simply calling for those with the disease to be isolated and cared for, but for the entire population to be cut off from the rest of the world and left to die until the disease had run it’s course. I have no problems with reasonable precautions – including for flights from affected regions to be banned coming out until such time as the wave of the epidemic has subsided – but I cannot advocate simply leaving people to die.

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        • I think I wasn’t clear when I initially wrote it. Quarantine is a useful tool in containing an epidemic. Shutting two-three whole countries off from the rest of the world is not a terribly good, or even feasible, option. Better to isolate the actually sick people, care for them, and try to limit the spread.

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  3. While I don’t believe we should cut off the regions with Ebola, I do think flying infected patients across a water barrier into Atlanta is just stupid. All it takes is for one mistake to be made and it’s possible to set it loose in the US. Keep the infected in Africa or where ever they are found and go there to treat them.

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  5. One of my environmental history professors pointed out that of course the most “interesting” unmodified pathogens come from Africa and southeast Asia – they’ve had the longest time to develop around humans (relatively speaking).

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      • Africa and Asia are also unbelievably large, and variegated in terms of climate and biome. In ways even those of us who’ve flown around the world or driven the width of North America can’t really understand. There are lots of isolated-yet-biologically-diverse hot spots for those crazy microbes to cook. Writing-wise, it’s one of the things many of us are prone to forgetting: just how big an ocean, planet, system, cluster, etc. actually are.

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