Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ominous news is ominous.

So, Ebola is in Sierra Leone. We kinda knew it was in the hinterlands of the country. It is moving into the cities. One may wonder why I, half a world a way and living in the country, am deeply concerned by this development. Ebola is a disease that I have been following for several years now. It started out as a curiosity. I confess, I am curious about plagues and the like, both in the sense of their epidemiology and their influence upon cultures. Two of my favorite books is A Journal of the Plague Year and the diary of Samuel Pepys. (If you're wondering what to buy me for my birthday or Yule, this is an excellent start of the list of books I would love to own. Perhaps I'll post that in the near future.) Another of my favorites is On the Beach, for reasons that I will tie back to plagues in a moment.

Plagues can shape humanity more surely then warfare, in my opinion. The Black Death wiped out a considerable portion of Europe's population, which laid the foundational groundwork for the destabilization of the feudal system and the eventual rise of modern Western society. The Spanish Flu was part of the factors that gave rise to what we understand now of vaccination and modern hygienic practices with respect to highly virulent pathogens. While we don't consciously think about the influence these diseases had upon history, we live with the effects daily.

With the extraordinary way diseases can spread between continents due to modern modes of travel (I'm looking right at you, air transportation.), we must now consider the threat of world wide outbreaks of diseases that were once limited to a specific geographic region. We must consider that with the larger populations subjected to the diseases in question, the disease mutates in a faster period of time then it would have in the past. Ebola is a horrific disease. It has a 50% mortality rate. While the time frame for transmission is not as long as it is for influenza, with the rise of much more rapid modes of transportation, it has the opportunity to infect a larger population and mutate faster then it would have in the smaller populations of the locales where it originated.

Now, one may ask, where that post-apocalyptic story of On the Beach fits into this picture. Consider, if you will, a world wide plague that is marching towards where you live. It is only a matter of time until it reaches you and your family. Said plague is highly likely to kill your family and yourself. How do you face the onset of illness? How do you face the potential of the death of yourself and your loved ones? On the Beach describes how the author envisioned people dealing with their own plague like event. It would seem that the author advocates one taking their life in this scenario rather then waiting for death.

I question, with the mutation of Ebola that will come with the rise of the population base of the infected, what risk is there of it becoming airborne and making transmission terrifyingly fast. Sierra Leone is on the precipice of utter chaos. Panic is rising and if containment efforts fail, as I fear they will, Sierra Leone will descend into a level of chaos that I suspect will rival Somalia at its worst.

How does this prospect have any influence over myself, one might ask?  Simple, a person can hop a plane and fly anywhere in the world. Illicit carriers will risk insane dangers if the coin paid is high enough. An infected person who is still in the latent phase could be smuggled into somewhere that the restrictions upon travel are more lax. They could, in turn, infect others who then spread the disease to an unknown number of people before it registers in the medical community of the region that this disease is present. Right now, Ebola is a disease with a very short window for transmission.

Mutations can occur that change the vectors of transmission. They can also change how long the incubation period of a viral strain is. Those two facts are what puts the proverbial fear of god into me on this disease. As the population infected rises, the number of times the disease moves from carrier to carrier increases. With each transmission of the disease, it has the prospect of mutating because DNA can not copy exactly the same 100% of the time. Large population bases of infected means the number of times the virus can mutate has increased exponentially, because the number of times the virus reproduces itself has increased by such a factor.

It is my firm belief that it is merely a matter of time until this disease develops into something even more monstrous then it is now. (I hold the same belief with diseases such as HIV as well.) So, I see the news that Ebola has moved into larger populations and I become concerned. It is very frustrating to have nothing I can actively do to prevent this disease from potentially reaching where I live. While I could live in fear, as some people in the story On the Beach did waiting for their own doomsday event, I choose not to. I conduct myself as though Ebola is not a threat to myself and my own because there is no reasonable evidence that it can reach us at this time.

I keep the words of Marcus Aurelius in mind.


As I progress forward in life, no matter how horrific the potential events seem, I choose to continue on as though there is a future. To do otherwise, is in my opinion, perhaps the ultimate form of cowardice.

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