Dealing with Ebola

Four Corners has faced deadly viruses

The virus that has flared in West Africa where three countries come together is certain to be in the news for weeks, if not months, to come. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are largely impoverished and lacking medical staff, with portions of their populations susceptible to misinformation and rumor. That three countries are involved, and thus thorough and disciplined organization and coordination across borders is required to reduce and eliminate its presence, gives the virus yet another advantage.

Ebola is fiercely deadly, with a mortality rate of perhaps as great as 50 percent of those infected. That it is contracted only through bodily fluids is one great advantage; it is not airborne. To spread, victims have to come in very close contact with those infected. As the sequence of the current outbreak is compiled (Ebola has appeared a couple of times in recent years in the region but to much more limited effect), it is clearly family members and medical personnel who have been at greatest danger.

In addition, there is no cure other than attempting to treat the virus’ symptoms. A limited amount of a drug by an American company is apparently months away, in the very early stages of production, and it is untested.

With medical personnel from the United States and elsewhere convening on the three-country area, the challenges are clearly many. A couple of days ago, the number of dead was approaching 1,000. There will be more with medical staffers doing all they can to not become infected themselves nor to unwittingly foster the virus’ spread.

Within recent memory, Southwest Colorado has dealt with threatening viruses, but, of course, on much more modest scales.

There was a summer of Hantavirus in the Four Corners, spread largely by mice, which caused a person’s lungs to fill with water, resulting in death. Those infected had entered confined spaces such as sheds or horse barns and had breathed the virus. Climate conditions, including wet weather, had led to extra feed and a resulting increase in the mouse population. Additional mouse habitat had become infected, and more intensely.

Hantavirus had been reported in the Southwest for centuries (and still is present), but conditions created an outburst of some magnitude. We can easily assume that those conditions will return, again.

Then, wet weather also brought West Nile virus, transmitted by mosquitoes. Depressions in the ground, along with ditches, ponds and riverbanks became breeding grounds for host mosquitoes that carried the virus. West Nile sent fit men in the prime of life to local hospitals, and they were still struggling months later to fully regain their strength.

The future of the virus, as might be expected, proved uncertain. After late summer and fall rain that year, it was expected that conditions would be such that the next spring and summer would bring even more cases of West Nile. That did not occur for some reason; the virus had subsided.

Nature can be unfriendly and unpredictable. There are many harmful agents and organisms which can thrive at unpredictable times in opportune conditions to cause suffering and death. Ebola is one such virus that is especially ferocious.