Saturday, April 16, 2005

Angola Marburg Panic Masks Deadlier Issues


The bad news: the incredibly lethal Marburg filovirus, related but not identical to Ebola-virus, has killed over 200 people in Angola in the last few months. The disease, which spreads by contact with infected blood, sputum and feces, kills 90 percent of its victims, usually within nine days of infection.

The good news: by the time the victims are sufficiently infected to pass on the virus, they're much too sick to travel. This limits the spread of the disease.

Now the some worse news: there are far more deadly diseases brewing in the world. Some are carefully tended and enhanced in laboratories, designed as weapons. Thus we still have anthrax to fear, a disease that had seemed on its way to extinction after Lister applied his theory of immunization against it in the 1870s. Smallpox was officially declared to have been eradicated over 25 years ago, yet laboratories in the U.S. and the former Soviet Union are known to have stocks of the virus, perhaps refined as weapons.

More horrifying infections are rising in incidence. Necrotizing fasciitis, the "flesh-eating bacteria," for example, is a swiftly-spreading infection that is lethal unless the affected tissue is excised. But the number of cases of it caused by MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant strain of staphylococcus, are growing. Antibiotic resistance is also credited for the resurgence of tuberculosis, and many other diseases that seemed to have been vanquished by the "magic bullet." Antibiotics in animal feed are sometimes blamed for this increase, even though diseases like SARS and periodic waves of flu virus emerge from a part of the world where antibiotic-laden feed is seldom used.

The AIDS virus kills in a smoldering spread that infects millions because of the extremely long infective period. In an ironic way, AIDS is deadly due to the relative mildness of its symptoms. It's easier to see why a Marburg victim, bleeding out and unconscious, should be avoided. Yet the families of victims often hide their loved ones from doctors until it is too late to save the entire family from exposure.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization debates whether to give a vaccine that has been shown to cure Ebola-virus in monkeys to the infected humans in Angola. "There are complex ethical issues. This is an unlicensed drug and the ethics will have to be looked at extremely carefully," said WHO's top outbreak specialist, Dr. Mike Ryan. "There may be a case for compassionate use, but we can't just give it to people just like that."

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 10:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home