Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Odd algae virus causes neurological symptoms in people, maybe, a sci-fi idea; Spencer released from Bellevue, quiet about controversy


Even CNN mentioned this one Monday:  a virus (called a chlorovirus) that affects algae has been found in the throats of people, and has apparently produced some kind of low-level neurological infection. The people do less well on cognitive tests, especially tests requiring processing of visual information quickly.  A typical story is here) at “Alternatrive News Sources.”
  
The results were apparently reduced in some mice.  But’s not clear how credible all this is.
The idea that a plant virus could affect humans or animal tissue at all is novel.  But during the early days of the AIDS epidemic there were stories from Sweden about a bizarre fungus actually causing AIDS rather than just being an OI of it (before HIV was announced).
  
The idea could be important however.  In Christopher Nolan’s film “Interstellar” the world seems to have been decimated by a plant disease, which could be a virus targeting chlorophyll and photosynthesis.  If this could really happen, the Earth’s oxygen supply could slowly be depleted.
   
A slowly spreading neurological disease, which seems to start at high altitude areas among non-natives, is also a premise of my own novel, “Angel’s Brother”.  If a disease like this ever happened, it would be very difficult to trace contacts, and determine any need for isolation or quarantine, if symptoms built up gradually over months.   In the novel, there are unusual skin lesions in some people, leading to controversy over possible need for quarantine, even though the lesions precede more serious symptoms by months.  Stephen King made things all too easy with his “super-flu” in “The Stand” (1978, 1990), which turns out to have neurological consequences.

The only remaining patient in the US with Ebola, Dr. Craig Spencer, was released from Bellevue Hospital in NYC.  He had been playing the banjo and using an exercise bike in isolation.  Apparently he was in the hospital for 19 days, but has been much less ill since about Nov. 1.   Some chatter to my own inbox in Twitter suggests extreme disapproval (like, using bleach on the banjo) of his behavior before isolation, in the view of some New Yorkers.  Amber Vinson, in her press interviews, has said she was not told not to travel or mix in public. Spencer has suggested before that he followed all Doctors without Border protocols (which DWB confirms).  The latest New York Times story on Spencer is here.  He had received a plasma transfusion from Nancy Writebol.  There is not a lot of detail yet on his stay, and we will want to see if he wants to do public interviews; right now, he says he will not and just wants to get back to medicine.  Unlike Mupko, he has not wanted to tweet or write about it yet.  Again, people who have recovered from Ebola will probably face pressure to do multiple plasma donations, which could even be used in Africa.  Does immunity to Ebola make it easier to treat patients with less equipment?    
  
Spencer can start his life again by seeing Christopher Nolan's film.  
  
Mayor Bill Di Blasio, at a news conference this morning, said, "No one should be discriminated against for helping others."  When Spencer started to speak, CNN rudely interrupted him with a commercial, but carried the speech online. (The line "I'm no longer infectious" doesn't come out right.)


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