Tuesday, September 23, 2014

CNN: Ebola really could mutate into an airborne disease among humans; then why couldn't HIV?


Elizabeth Cohen writes in CNN today, “Ebola in the air? A nightmare that could happen”, article hereClinical samples from Africa show rapid mutation, although none have changed its transmissibility. CBS has a more toned down story here
  
President Obama had raised that speculation a few weeks ago on a television interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. 
  
Some past speculation has been fueled by the "Ebola Reston" virus in a DC-area lab in 1989, but it never infected humans (it's covered in Robert Preston's "The Hot Zone"). 
   
The rapid explosion of cases, which CDC says could reach 1.5 million in West Africa by January 2015, add to the probability of a change in transmissibility.  Laura Smith-Spark and Miriam Falco discussed the CNN article today here.   CDC says that it isn’t so much the virulence of the virus itself, but the social mobility patterns, distrust of authority, and poor infrastructure that led the epidemic to explode.   CDC’s page on the West Africa outbreak is here
   
Vox Media weighed in with a grim worst case scenario today, bit did not get into the mutation speculation, here
  
But back in the 1980s, the right wing, the group “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS”, tried to leverage speculation of what would happen were HIV to become more contagious, to try to justify a harsher sodomy law in Texas.  Their attempt was unsuccessful, but I remember the political scare as I lived in Dallas in 1983. 
   
Is there an intellectually justifiable reason to speculate over Ebola this way (and bird flu for that matter) but not retroviruses like HIV? 
   
Back in the mid 1990s, there was a smaller Ebola scare in Africa, which I mentioned at work from newspaper accounts, and coworkers nicknamed me “Ebola Bill”.  It isn’t funny today.  But I had bought Preston's "The Hot Zone" at a book fair in the company cafeteria. 
    
CNN has also reported that ISIS threatened to bring Ebola to the US, but that is much easier imagined than actually done. 
  
The media may seem to resorting to supermarket or tabloid-style sensationalism today on the Ebola issue, but these are big, responsible news organizations, not Florida rags. 
   
Imagine the damage to the economy done by “social distancing” if Ebola or bird flu comes to the US.  I don’t know why we don’t move faster on vaccines.  

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