EBOLA-RE BOLA-RE

Ebola is a dreaded name. It is a deadly virus that kills virtually all it infects. It is seen mostly in Africa. The danger of Ebola to the world is because of the real threat of it being used as an agent of bioterror, as I have mentioned in my Foolitzer-winning article on Bioterrorism that appeared in The New York Times an Indian newspaper. In the said article, I reported on the possibility of scientists within terror groups hiding a deadly virus within a benign bacterium which, when treated with antibiotics, would release the virus and cause a highly infectious and lethal disease that could decimate society:

Recently, Popov has talked about an experiment in synthetic biology that fuses plague and Ebola virus. The scientific premise of this Soviet research is to hide a deadly virus particle inside the genome of a more innocuous bacterium.
In this case, infection in the test subject would result in plague like symptoms. Once the treatment (usually tetracycline) for the plague is given, the virus is expressed fully. It is feared that the resultant walking ‘Ebola bombs’ could devastate populations. Ebola, if you didn’t know, has an almost cent percent mortality in man.

Scientists have launched a major attack on the disease by successfully testing a vaccine against Ebola in primates. Human trials are awaited. To read about the challenges of producing an Ebola vaccine, read this interesting and short report.

13 responses to “EBOLA-RE BOLA-RE

  1. R-Doc: I may be asking the obvious, but doesn’t a virus’s mutability pose the risk of no vaccine ever being ‘sufficient’?

    If we could control viruses, we would have invented an HIV vaccine long ago, no? Despite millions having been spent, and advocacy and negotiations, and millions of man-hours of wet lab work, we are no closer to one. Now in terms of public health policy spending priorities, what comes first – something that afflicts large masses of humanity condemning them to slow death, or something that kills a smaller number but which we fear more?

    Oh wait, I have found the answer. The first one is hampered by greed, while the second is driven by fear. Down to the same old, same old.

  2. R-Doc: Belated thought..

    Ebola-re…

    Volare…

    This is probably more close to reality, no? 😉

  3. Shefaly:
    Mutation is an issue, but probably (I am guessing here) it occurs very slowly, before which the virus gets (or could get) eradicated from the face of the earth. Look at small pox. Also look at the stubborn polio virus. I have a feeling it is that countries like India are stubborn in their apathy to health and hygiene, not the virus itself. That one is still a long way away from eradication, thanks to us. I wonder if mutation plays a role there, but I would have to check. In a hurry now….
    Volaré, you mean? To fly? Or the Drosophila melanogaster? 🙂

  4. Good grief, Doc, you are scaring me and distracting from USA Presidential fears 😉
    As I look at my bioterrorism mouspad (tularemia, botulism, anthrax, smallpox, plague….and viral hemorrhagic fevers—Ebola, lassa, etc, I am reminded once again that we cannot become complacent about these real threats.
    Concluded that nutjobs outnumber sane people in this world, so your scenario is very real.
    Very interesting piece!

  5. @Shefaly: hope I did not misinterpret your first comment, but we do have vaccines for many viral diseases (polio, flu, HPV, etc etc).
    Read this week that Viet Nam is conducting “final” trials on avian influenza.
    Also, we must continue to work on virus vaccines, despite the frustrations (HIV), as well as bioterrorism threats.
    Now bend over, I think you need to catch up on your shots 😉

  6. That was a scary post. If the thing ever gets loose, there’s no saying how many would die in populous countries like ours. Everyone hates us anyway. *Shudder*

    As the bard said

    …by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d…

    Perhaps that’s our solace, if it ever comes to that.

  7. Being optimistic I am sure we will find a way to cure /prevent Ebola and even AIDS, and perhaps find some sort of relief/cure for spinal diseases. Sure, it may seem impossible today, but what seems impossible today is often the reality of tomorrow.
    But just as I have a great faith in the brilliance of human beings, I also dread their evil.
    When it comes to things like bio-terrorism and nuclear war I am less optimistic.

  8. @ R-Doc: Thanks. Indeed the speed of mutation matters. I am not sure how it works for Ebola.

    And yes, I meant Volare (to fly) 🙂

    @ Jackie: I think in avian influenza, the problem is quite different. The rate of animal-to-human transmission is quite low and requires prolonged contact which means that the high risk populations are quite easily identifiable and the vaccine can be made relevant and useful.

    And there is the societal angle. As R-Doc points out, polio is facing a resurgence in India, where it was almost gone once, in certain communities which have poor literacy and where rumours abound that the government (then of a dominant religious ideology) may make them sterile through these injections (don’t ask – the perils of ill-education or no education are many!). In the UK, similarly, some communities with higher rates of disease (incl HIV) are those that do not let health workers help them.

    From both of you, I am keen to learn about the differences between how viruses mutate and the links with vaccines’ success and what you see clinically. Thanks 🙂

    PS: Must add – during my research, all US interviewees mentioned bio-terrorism as a public health priority; in the UK, we are more focused on ageing populations, provisioning, socio-economic disparities and so on.

  9. Shefaly and all, I’ll let Doc detail mechanisms of virus mutation. I can address the greatest public success story of our time: vaccine preventable diseases.
    So sad to see those old photos of polio wards, sterility from mumps, loss or decreased quality of life from diptheria, whooping cough, tetanus, etc.
    Countries like USA have been so successful on this front that we have the luxury of anti-vaccine people. A friend refuses to vaccinate her home-schooled child. I no longer argue with these folks. I just said, I hope she does not want to travel overseas later…she will not be protected.
    Also, we have many illegal immigrants here who do not enjoy free immuizations, so she could be exposed in that way too.
    To think an entire disease (smallpox) has been eradicated (except in labs), tetanus is very rare, and polio gone from many parts of the world is truly a miracle. Lots of work still to be done, but we should celebrate some public health successes.
    PS: bio-terrorism is sexy, gets a lot of attention and money… but I think it is disproportionate to REAL medical issues we face — such as health care coverage, ageing, obesity, etc.

  10. It is so sad that people would hate one another so much to go to this level. At this rate, how many years do you give us as a species ?
    Sad, sorry, shocked, terrified.

  11. I found some interesting information about Ebola Virus. Check it out!

  12. @Bill: thanks for the link

    @Shefaly: RE: Avian Influenza comment above: what you say is true, but I think the disease is underreported. True, it takes prolonged direct contact but that scenario is VERY common among the predominantly rural population there… most country folks keep, slaughter, and eat poultry. I think deaths are what makes news, but those who survive or those who never seek healthcare are never reported. This is true in any emerging infectious disease, isn’t it? I don’t think the issue is going away. Too, the Vietnamese government is not quick to publicize cases in their state-run media either. I send my parents Tamiflu before each of their trips.
    As always, thanks for your interesting commentary!

  13. All,
    Thanks. Too sick and tired to reply to you individually. Hope you understand.

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