Saturday, October 11, 2014

EEEEEEEbola   If you are obsessing about ebola (whilst refusing to get a flu shot or not refraining from shaking hands), watch this vid.  It shows the ebola patients who actually survived.  Of course, some are white, American and male.  (We see one white female.)  This is partly because their basic health was good, they got excellent nursing in a contemporary setting by being flown to the US on big expensive airplanes, they had the connections to know about experimental meds and the clout to get them, and so on.  But at the same time there were a lot of local people who had nothing but their own immune systems in their favor and various proportions of them survived.  Now we are taking their blood to analyze for code.  They may save all the rest of us.

drawing of ebola string with prickles

Religionists might say, “Salvation is within you.”  This takes on a good deal of meaning when thinking about something like ebola.  One microscopic view of ebola RNA has been showing up everywhere in ingenious graphic depictions, but it’s basically just a string with prickles on it that act like the burrs on your socks after a long walk.  The string sticks to the walls of cells which ends up engulfing it and, once inside, the virus converts the cell DNA to making ebola RNA.  The “miracle drug” is a protein that plugs up the prickles so they can’t stick.  Vivid medical cartoons in this vid.

The dreaded blood symptom is because it eats the lining out of the blood tubing of the body so that the walls of the vessels leak.  This is hard on the GI tract where blood travels up against the gut walls, pulling out nutrients and liquids, so the content of the GI tract (vomit, feces) has been loaded with the virus.  But it doesn’t go across into the lungs, so liquids (coughing, spitting) from that source don’t carry the virus.  I don’t think anyone knows why.  Yet.

But there is another and more crucial meaning of salvation being within us.  It is human behavior, driven by human understanding.  It’s a truism that when a gone-wrong marriage is blocked from therapy by one partner, the other partner should go for help and support.  The only real change has to be what a person makes in themselves, but the good news is that changing oneself changes everyone around one.  It’s hard, but it’s not the impossible task of changing humankind en masse all at once.

Unclear on the idea

Now we’re told that semen can carry the virus, even when every other area of the body is cleared, for up to ninety days.  Breast milk can also carry the virus after everything else is clear.  (Lots of material for a dramatic novel there:  a man comes home to his wife or lover, not knowing this, and infects her.  In turn, she infects the man’s cherished infant son.  They die.  But the man is now immunized and must go on living.) Condoms are being distributed and maybe now the men who think they are invincible will actually use them.  Of course, fear always makes some people of any gender defiant, determined to dance on the volcano.

Every disease has at its roots human behavior and history.  Nathan Wolfe in "The Viral Storm" identifies points in human history when humans discarded big parts of their “microbial repertoire,” meaning the bits and pieces that like to nibble on us and the reciprocal dance partners of our protective antibodies.  One factor was simply moving away -- out of the trees and contact with monkeys and primates whose code was most like ours.  Living on the grasslands means exposure to strong sunlight.  (Rabies is mostly in nocturnal animals because sunlight kills it.)  Another was learning to cook food.  A third was drastic reductions in the number of people for one reason or another. 

airport fever gun

But our modern behavior has reversed the flow.  People from all over live packed into huge cities and prize indoor darkness to view our glass screens.  We intervene against infections with meds before we have time to develop antibodies.  The sexual revolution means we pass fluids around constantly.  The invention of the syringe has meant introducing fluids straight into the blood stream.  Romantic paranoias have prevented some children from vaccination, which was the first way to reverse the flow of disruptive code that came from living closely with animals when we domesticated them about ten thousand years ago.  If some familiar and devastating old plague like smallpox hit Valier, most likely all the grandparents would be immune.  I still have the scar on my shoulder.  Kids here get their shots.  Even the cows get their shots.

Our transportation systems have a lot to do with the spread of a virus.  We've seen it happen by now.  Ebola has no symptoms while it incubates, which is a major debit, but victims are not contagious until they are nearly immobilized with illness, which is a plus.  Here's a plot:  think about the practice of trafficking little children.  They say in some parts of the world you can buy a toddler for less than a fancy puppy.  With parents dead who would object?  Making a human vector out of that kid would not be impossible.  A suicidal adult?  Not so dramatic as wearing a bomb and what if the person survived?  A hard sell.

Already they're selling plush ebola virus

In the meantime realization is slowly sinking in that it’s not a blood virus that is the most deadly threat, but rather torn community systems of food supply, security in homes, education, handling of births and the meaning of family at its core.  There will be hunger war.  Cultures will have to change.  Religions will have to change.  And it’s about time.  Many of our practices and assumptions developed centuries ago.  Sometimes things have to reach the most extreme of desperations before people see what they must do.

Most difficult this time is realizing that humans are not one type, viruses are not single entities, habitats each have their own web of life -- but there is only one planet.  The “dog catching” job that I sort of fell into in the Seventies has turned out to be a great reservoir of understanding about the shuttling through our lives of entities large and small.  One of the things that saved me both from becoming bitter or becoming a bully was that I made it a point to contact people who were doing the right thing.  If there were many complaints coming from a neighborhood, I’d knock on doors all up the block, and meet people who had explanations, suggested strategies, kept in touch.  We’re only beginning to do that with ebola.

Another Biblical catch phrase is “the saving remnant,” the few survivors who carry on.  (The Bible doesn't admit that they might be the wicked as well as the virtuous.)  At first we thought that ebola was inevitably and universally fatal, but now it becomes clear that some people are bloodied survivors.  The task of the rest of us is to keep this world one that is worth surviving for.  We can never learn enough about what that means, but we’d better start where we are, even if we’re not in Africa.  

The story that’s sticking like a burr with me is the one about the boys, bored since schools are closed, who snuck into a house while the woman was hanging clothes on the line and stole the two cell phones she had left charging on her kitchen table.   Easily could have happened here.  Aside from hocking the phones, what else could happen?  What if one of the phones rings and a boy answers?  What should the voice say?

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