At least our cons are better than that! »« Mary’s Monday Metazoan: menial work in natty attire

That kind of wording scares me

There has been a new outbreak of Ebola in Uganda. This kind of stuff worries me, not in acute “oh-we’re-all-going-to-die-now” sort of way, but in a long term perspective. We’re all sitting here fat and happy and swarming, and what’s going to wipe out this species some day is a combination of resource depletion and new diseases — famine and plague, to name two of the horsemen.

But I thought this bit was bizarre.

Ondoa described the Ebola-Sudan strain detected as "mild" compared to other types of Ebola, noting that victims’ lives can be saved with intervention.

20 people infected.

14 dead.

“Mild.”

Comments

  1. LanceR, JSG says

    Realistically, 70% mortality *is* mild for Ebola. IIRC, it generally runs much higher than that.

  2. LanceR, JSG says

    And of course, with the commenting before the googling I am wrong. Looks like Ebola runs 50% to 90%, making this outbreak right in the middle of the pack.
    Source

    Still a very scary disease.

  3. julietdefarge says

    “what’s going to wipe out this species some day”
    I’m going to vote for a combo of famine, depleted ozone layer and a potpourri of other natural and man-assisted catastrophes. As we have people walking among us who are influenza-, plague- and HIV- resistant, what sort of disease would carry us all off? Perhaps human white-nose fungus?

  4. maureenbrian says

    Yes, but it won’t be Ebola which wipes us out, not unless it mutates into something very mild indeed.

    It used to have a 95+% mortality rate – truly horrible if you’ve got it, almost impossible to protect the medics from it but fortunately the few who do survive are in no state to dash into the NY subway and infect thousands more. But unlike TB and flu there’s no doubt at all who’s got it and it burns itself out too quickly to spread.

    If anything at all is worrying about this story it’s that the new strain has a mortality rate of only 70% and we’re going to have to work on things like period of infectiousness, quarantine, that sort of thing.

  5. davidct says

    Did it indicate how many of those who dies, received treatment and if so was it timely? Since most of the victims were in one family, they may have died at home with limited care. There is not enough information to know for sure what happened.

  6. says

    @4 XDR-TB.

    Not just multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. EXTREME multi-drug resistant TB.

    There’s some scary shit making its rounds.

    Of course, like the dinosaurs, extinction could take a while. Even after the meteorite that created the K-T boundary, it took about a million years before the non-avian dinos departed.

    Absent hunting-to-oblivion (the dodo, passenger pigeon, etc), extinction is usually a long drawn-out, boring affair. The last humans probably won’t even be aware they’re the last.

  7. Pteryxx says

    Perhaps human white-nose fungus?

    *nodnod* Though realistically, it’d only have to wipe out enough of the humans to destroy their societies, cultural patterns, and leave them too few or widely scattered to huddle together for warmth.

  8. steve84 says

    A high mortality rate actually prevents a virus from spreading too far. A lower mortality rate and higher incubation rate cause it spread farther. If too many people die too quickly, it doesn’t infect usually infect a huge number of people.

  9. jakc says

    The story doesn’t indicate whether the 14 who died got timely intervention, so its possible that the death rate just indicates a lack of health care.

  10. vaiyt says

    @steve84:

    Pretty much that. A “high incubation rate” describes exactly what made smallpox so scary btw.

  11. dcg1 says

    The key phrase is “compared to other types of Ebola”
    Bizarre no; rational and unhysterical yes!.

    Do you mean its bizarre because the politician in charge isn’t behaing like a headless chicken for once?

  12. says

    Not just multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. EXTREME multi-drug resistant TB.

    Looks like there will be new drug combinations to use against TB, though, including an old “non-TB” drug recently realized to be of use against tuberculosis.

    Nature reported on it recently.

    Glen Davidson

  13. says

    I’d imagine an extinction level super plague would need to have some nearly perfect balance between its deadliness and communicability. I don’t know much about Ebola, but to me, it seems like what others have said: Too deadly, so it burns through its victims faster than they can spread it, which makes me wonder how it hasn’t gone extinct. In this case, a less deadly strain would be a beneficial evolutionary adaptation for the pathogen.

    If I were a mad microbiologist out to show all those fools who mocked my genius, I’d probably make or modify a disease that starts with “flu-like symptoms” that aren’t too bad at first, so people would be able to go about their day with only mild discomfort and spread the disease before it gets into the really deadly stuff.

    Would probably be even better if it had a largely asymptomatic phase, though as a layman who doesn’t know the details of an infection’s life cycle, I wonder if that’d ‘tempt’ natural selection to favor an asymptomatic infection. If the virus still spreads, why keep the DNA for the deadly phase?

    But thinking again, if I were a mad microbiologist, I’d probably have more fun trying to engineer “positive viruses” like in that Red Dwarf episode… which moves me to wonder if such viruses would have their own deadly side, like in that traffic episode of Doctor Who.

  14. A. R says

    A. R sticks head in, wonders why he is receiving hugs when he only works with Ebola proteins. Anyway, yeah, the species Sudan virus (Formerly known as the Sudan Ebola virus, or Ebola Sudan is #2 on the Ebola deadliness list. Compared to the species Ebola virus (formerly known as Zaire Ebola virus, or Ebola Zaire (btw, that last one is the only virus name that still makes me jump when someone says it in a lab) But yes, in the 1976 outbreak in Yambuku, Zaire (now the DRC), nine out of every ten people infected died from hemorrhage, shock and organ failure. Not a nice way to go. Sudan virus (which, incidentally appeared at nearly the same time as the Yambuku outbreak in the Sudanese village of Yambio.) Granted, the Mayinga strain that appeared in Yambuku was probably the worst so far recorded (the 1995 strain was nearly as bad), but you wouldn’t get the people of Gabon to believe that.

  15. A. R says

    Bronze Dog:

    Yep, ebolaviruses tend to burn through hosts far to quickly for any meaningful pandemicity to develop without the aid of modern methods of travel, and exposure to large numbers of people (i.e. we would be megafucked if an infected person boarded a 767 from Kinshasa to JFK). The virus not going extinct is actually very simple to explain. You see, it acts much like a Rhinovirus in certain bats, which act as reservoirs for the virus, which can enter the human population through feces (questionable, depending on who you ask, but it works for the related Nipah virus), or when the bats are hunted for food, which is a common practice in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now as for genetically-engineered superviruses, yes, you could make something to do that. But why put so much effort into it when you can just modify H5N1 like that Danish guy did? Or make Ebolapox like the Soviets?

  16. A. R says

    Ugandan authorities did not initially detect an Ebola outbreak because patients weren’t showing typical symptoms of the lethal virus, the nation’s health minister told CNN on Sunday.

    Patients had fevers and were vomiting, but did not show other typical symptoms like hemorrhaging, Health Minister Dr. Christine Ondoa said.

    Jeebus, how incompetent can these “Public Health Authorities” be? not every case will be hemorrhagic with Sudan virus, in fact, less that half would be expected. When you have a diagnosis of unknown virus in Africa, you test for Ebola and Marburg as a precaution no matter what.

  17. Manu of Deche says

    Pteryxx @ #8

    Though realistically, it’d only have to wipe out enough of the humans to destroy their societies, cultural patterns, and leave them too few or widely scattered to huddle together for warmth.

    Actually I doubt that. Humans are actually very resilient (most of us aren’t but that doesn’t matter), kind of like bacteria. Throw natural disasters, diseases, lack of resources, etc. at them (like you throw antibiotics at bacteria), and 99% will eventually die. The rest will most likely flourish again. The only way I can think of to actually wipe out all of humanity would be a scenario like the destruction of the whole biosphere (e.g. cosmic collision on a truely grand scale, nearby gamma-ray-burst), or a very agressive, at least semi-sentient cause (Zombie Apocalypse, Rise of the Machines, Aliens). However, both seem very unlikely.
    The reason for this, in my opinion, is that we are no longer “natural”. We have superseded the biological and evolutionary limitations to a degree that we, as a species, can take much more than any other vertebrate. Plus, there are 7 billion of us.

  18. thisisaturingtest says

    …what’s going to wipe out this species some day is a combination of resource depletion and new diseases — famine and plague, to name two of the horsemen.

    Add what, to me, is the biggest horseman of all- folks thinking they can solve these problems with Palin-, Bachmann-, and Perry-style platitudes about “god solves all problems” and “Amurika exceptional cuz god!” IOW- willful ignorance replacing actual thought in problem solving.

  19. jnorris says

    I am sure the Christian missionaries from America in Uganda and elsewhere in East Africa will remind everyone that Ebola-Sudan, while ‘mild’, is God’s warning that they are not killing enough gays and witches.

  20. says

    @Kevin @7:

    Is there any data on how fast-spreading extremely-resistant TB is? If it’s spending all of that energy on the chemical machinery necessary for resistance, shouldn’t that slow down its replication speed and how rapidly it can spread?

    Of course, that wouldn’t help kill the disease unless all current carriers could be identified …

  21. says

    @22

    My thoughts exactly. When a deadly disease shows up, people get scared. Scared people tend to want someone to blame. This could easily end up as a double tragedy.

  22. StevoR says

    @16. Bronze Dog :

    ..I don’t know much about Ebola, but to me, it seems like what others have said: Too deadly, so it burns through its victims faster than they can spread it, which makes me wonder how it hasn’t gone extinct. ..

    Because its main host (vector unknown still?) ain’t humans explains that.

    Or that’s what I gather anyhow.

  23. says

    The virus not going extinct is actually very simple to explain. You see, it acts much like a Rhinovirus in certain bats, which act as reservoirs for the virus, which can enter the human population through feces (questionable, depending on who you ask, but it works for the related Nipah virus), or when the bats are hunted for food, which is a common practice in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Ah. I had a suspicion that there might have been some other species involved, since I’ve heard of bacteria and worms that spend their time in other animals before inflicting horrible things on humans. Of course, now I’ll have to get an accompanying image out of my head.

    Now as for genetically-engineered superviruses, yes, you could make something to do that. But why put so much effort into it when you can just modify H5N1 like that Danish guy did? Or make Ebolapox like the Soviets?
    I’m not at all surprised modifying an existing virus would be easier than making from scratch. Viruses are good at what they do, so I imagine you’d need a very good reason to reinvent the wheel.

    And now I’m going to Wiki “Ebolapox.” That’s scary sounding Cold War stuff.

  24. Gregory in Seattle says

    As the biology track coordinator for next year’s Norwescon convention, I have been thinking along these lines when brainstorming panels.

    What will do us in? There are an awful lot of possibilities. The lack of potable water and the rate at which aquafers are being depleted. A novel strain of influenza combined with global trade and global travel. The fact that antibiotics only bought us a reprieve and we are once again losing ground in the war against disease. Global climate change which is turning once rich cropland into dustbowls, and the almost desperate way in which corn and other food crops are being diverted to the manufacture of fuels. The anthropogenic extinction event, where man-made changes to the environment are killing off plants and animals at an accelerating rate.

    Take your pick, and keep in mind that there are not mutually exclusive scenarios.

  25. Stevarious says

    There’s a (what seems to me) fairly realistic ‘game’ here that simulates a large disease outbreak, and shows (IMHO) how easy it would be to wipe out large portions of humanity with an infectious disease, but how difficult it would be to get us all with one disease.

  26. StevoR says

    Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone on ebola and its “lesser” sister marburg is a powerful book – it made me miss many buses when I was reading it a a bookstore on the way home for a while. (I did eventually fix that by buying a copy.)

    Marburg and ebola – in all its gory variants are seriously scary diseases and Preston (Think I’ve got and spelt that right!) writes about them very well, FWIW.

    Ebola, from what I recall, ranges from about 90% fatal – Zaire variant to 0 % fatal at least for humans with the airborne Reston variant which is where Humanity (so far?) probably really doged a bullet. Or worst ever pandemic virii to be precise.

  27. Ben P says

    Clearly there aren’t enough people in this post that have played Pandemic or Pandemic 2.

    Although the conversation tracks pretty closely. If you make a short incubation period highly lethal virus, the models make it burn out very quickly, and even if its very communicable, you get stuck on a continent without a way off.

    The way to “win” Pandemic (create a virus that wiped out all of humanity) was to create a near asymptomatic virus with a long incubation period and high communicability, then suddenly modify it to become lethal.

    Even then you had to deal with madagascar shutting its damn ports. I had more games that ended with Madagascar being the only survivors than I can count.

  28. frog says

    I’m less worried about resource depletion than I am about plague. The latter has a tendency to relieve the former.

    That said, I would rather humanity figure out how to live in balance without having large-scale death events control our numbers.

  29. jacobfromlost says

    I always thought an extinction event would probably be two or three really bad things happening simultaneously or in quick succession that may or may not be related to each other.

    It doesn’t take much to imagine a catastrophic climate collapse, followed by several wars for resources, followed by a very small group of survivors that fall on bad luck–a virus, a wrong turn at Albuquerque, or a leader convincing everyone to sit and pray for the aliens to save everyone at exactly the wrong moment (after all, the aliens chose our little group of 500 to survive–how else do you explain our survival after everyone else is dead?).

  30. cyberCMDR says

    IIRC, the normal pattern for really deadly viruses is to mutate to milder strains, because if the host doesn’t die quickly the virii are more successful at spreading. (Not directed mutation, but those variants are the ones that can spread). So this should be an expected transition.

    I do think that we are headed to a global pandemic at some point. Too many humans, too many opportunities for a new virus to spread. This is especially true where many live in squalor with no health care to speak of. Couple that with rapid international travel, and you have a ticking bomb.

  31. David Marjanović says

    and it burns itself out too quickly to spread.

    If anything at all is worrying about this story it’s that the new strain has a mortality rate of only 70% and we’re going to have to work on things like period of infectiousness, quarantine, that sort of thing.

    All seconded.

    Even after the meteorite that created the K-T boundary, it took about a million years before the non-avian dinos departed.

    Extremely badly supported conclusion from shaky magnetostratigraphy in one place in New Mexico and nowhere else on Earth.

    Ah. I had a suspicion that there might have been some other species involved, since I’ve heard of bacteria and worms that spend their time in other animals before inflicting horrible things on humans. Of course, now I’ll have to get an accompanying image out of my head.

    Very few pathogens spend their entire life cycles in humans.

    Pox and polio were two.

    I guess PZ never read The Hot Zone.

    In any case, I haven’t. But it has a Wikipedia article.

  32. David Marjanović says

    virii

    Viri, if you really must.

    “Virii” could only come from “virius”. -ii is not an ending in Latin.

  33. Epinephrine says

    “Virii” could only come from “virius”. -ii is not an ending in Latin.

    Feel free to correct me, but isn’t radii as a plural for radius latin?

  34. Sili says

    Feel free to correct me, but isn’t radii as a plural for radius latin?

    Exactly – the ending is “-i” affixed to “radi-“. It’s radius – radii, not radus – radii.

  35. says

    Oh, and the plural of “virus” is “viruses”

    Interesting. We use “vira” in Danish (or at least some of do, others use the incorrect “viruser”)

  36. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    or at least some of do, others use the incorrect “viruser”)

    I believe the correct usage of the form “viruser” is when speaking of a much more dangerous virus

    “That Ebola is way viruser than rhinopharyngitis.”

    ……

  37. says

    There were plagues in the tax record of China that wiped out 98% of households–with several people per household, it implies that either the fatality rate was more than 98% or that single survivors joined together to form new households. Your choice.

  38. earwig says

    Sili:

    Feel free to correct me, but isn’t radii as a plural for radius latin?

    Exactly – the ending is “-i” affixed to “radi-”. It’s radius – radii, not radus – radii.

    I’ve been puzzled by this sudden outbreak of “-ii” plural endings for 2nd declension nouns. I saw “fetii” on an earlier thread. Are people trying to extrapolate from “radius”? That isn’t a word I pluralise often, even so.

  39. Khantron, the alien that only loves says

    @julietdefarge #4

    The ozone layer is recovering since CFCs were banned so that’s one fewer thing to worry about.

  40. Sarahface says

    Even then you had to deal with madagascar shutting its damn ports. I had more games that ended with Madagascar being the only survivors than I can count.

    FSM, Madagascar. I remain convinced that the only way to win is to start there.
    (I have nothing else relevant or interesting to say >.> )

  41. Ben P says

    There were plagues in the tax record of China that wiped out 98% of households–with several people per household, it implies that either the fatality rate was more than 98% or that single survivors joined together to form new households. Your choice.

    Not as precise as the chinese tax records, but there’s fairly strong evidence that the mortality of smallpox plagues among Native Americans was 80-90% in the worst scenarios. Accounts commonly list plagues wiping out 25%-30 of populations within a single outbreak and the smallpox plague of 1617-1619 allegedly wiped out 90% of the massachusetts bay indian population.

    On a large scale? that’s a civilization ender. If the world lost 80% of its population in the matter of 2-3 years, we’d be back to where the world population was in 1840.

  42. birgerjohansson says

    “I had more games that ended with Madagascar being the only survivors than I can count”

    In real life, places like Iceland and various Pacific atolls would provide a wide variety of survivors. Lots of Hebrideans surviving the “bloody Sassenach”.
    — — — —
    The Chixchulub impact coincided with the Deccan Traps supervolcanism, which straddled the impact event.
    Two rare events at the same time, each capable of triggering an extinction event on its own.

  43. says

    Admittedly they used to think Marburg was relatively mild compared to Ebola (estimates of ~25% mortality), and then the outbreak in Angola happened a couple years old and it turned out to be pretty close to a worst case scenario.

  44. says

    Sarahface #45
    I beat it once when starting off of Madagascar… but with all the hours I’ve used Pandemic as procrastination fodder that’s not good odds.

  45. Sili says

    Or make Ebolapox like the Soviets?

    Do I want to know?

    –o–

    Or make Ebolapox like the Soviets?

    Resource depletion will leave to war to avoid starvation, before starvation hits. So that’s three outta the four horsemen. And then – it’s not like we’re ever lacking for Death.

  46. Sili says

    I’ve been puzzled by this sudden outbreak of “-ii” plural endings for 2nd declension nouns. I saw “fetii” on an earlier thread. Are people trying to extrapolate from “radius”? That isn’t a word I pluralise often, even so.

    Yes. It sounds fancy. You’ll find “penii” around as well.

    People like to show off their superior knowledge. Even more so when they don’t actually have any.

    Just look at the arguments over “syllabi” and “ignorami”.

  47. Charlie Foxtrot says

    (Oh no! Dad joke attack!…)

    Caesar (to the bartender): I’ll have a martinus.

    Bartender: Sir, don’t you mean martini?

    Caesar: If I want two, I’ll ask for two!

    (Sorry. Its almost involuntary… )

  48. madscientist says

    That’s far better odds than other strains. Now if Ebola would evolve to have a much longer incubation time and then kill it’s victims we’re really screwed. At the moment the damned disease acts so quickly it’s hard to imagine an outbreak going beyond a relatively small area.

  49. leonpeyre says

    Bartender: Sir, don’t you mean martini?

    Caesar: If I want two, I’ll ask for two!

    In that case, I’ll have two whiskii.

  50. says

    SARS might have done it–it was as easy to catch as a cold, took several days to develop, and had a high death rate even with high-tech support like oxygen perfusion. Luckily it was stopped by good healthcare measures. Frankly, I think the mortality is underrated because many people were put down as possible cases and then they died so they weren’t counted as confirmed cases. Still, it seems that the mortality rate in my age group was over 60% when you count up the suspected and confirmed cases. Many of the people who survived were left with permanent lung damage. If the patient who brought it to Canada had gone instead to the U.S., where people can’t count on universal heatlhcare and tend to delay going to the hospital, it might have gotten out into the general population. The mortality rate varied by age.

  51. says

    I actually got a smallpox re-vaccination in the 70s but when I tried to get one for my child ten years later, they had been discontinued as too dangerous (reactions vs. chance of encountering the germ).

    The whole history of disease is that it will be around forever, coming thought every few years and wiping out a few children, coming through every 15 years and wiping out a portion of the teenagers on down, or coming by once a generation or less and hitting almost everybody. With antibiotics and vaccinations we have been living a very unusually safe life. That may change.

    Even something slow like AIDS, by wiping out many of the parent generation, is doing tremendous damage in Africa where grandparents can’t take care of orphaned children.