A few weeks ago the CDC quietly released a travel warning advising travelers to be cautious when traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apparently, a different strain of Ebola has struck in the DRC and so far 70 cases have been reported, and 43 people have died.
As reporting and development standards in the DRC are very low, it’s entirely possible that the outbreak is significantly larger. Certainly, this outbreak hasn’t (and hopefully won’t) reach the proportions of the outbreak now gripping West Africa and appears unrelated to that strain of the virus that is now spreading across said region.
Some officials seem to be sighing in relief that it’s not the same strain of virus. If anything, however, we should be even more concerned. Two different strains could make it more difficult to fight Ebola, and could also point at the possibility of Ebola outbreaks becoming a common occurrence.
Everyone from conspiracy theorists to well-respected scientists have warned that our continued over development of forests, unsanitary living conditions, and numerous other factors could eventually lead to outbreaks of deadly diseases. From crowded poultry farms in Asia becoming breeding grounds for the flu, to hitherto unseen diseases, such as Ebola and HIV emerging from jungles, the occurrence of deadly diseases is becoming a bigger and bigger threat.
With thousands of people already infected in West Africa, and governments in the region struggling to maintain order, it appears that even the most dire predictions are actually starting to come true. Ebola is spreading rapidly and could literally destroy societies across West Africa. While this would certainly be a worse case scenario, it’s a real one.
Understanding Ebola: What Are Viruses?
Ebola is a virus. Viruses are fast replicating organic compounds (it’s debatable whether viruses are actually living creatures). Most viruses are relatively harmless and we come into contact with so many of them ever day without consequence that’d it’d be impossible to count.
Long story short, viruses bind with our cells, are consumed, and then hijack our cells to turn them into virus reproduction factories. Our body responds by destroying the viruses and the cells they infect. Our bodies are able to take care of the vast majority of virus and bacterial invasions, but a few diseases seem to have our number.
Nature’s Revolt: The Rise of Ebola
Ebola was discovered in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, though a confirmed but unnamed outbreak did occur several months earlier in South Sudan. Scientists and medical professionals were immediately taken back by how deadly the disease was. Ebola has exhibited death rates in excess of 90%, though the current strain is killing between 50 and 60%.
Most likely, the disease came from a carrier animal in nature. These carrier animals typically won’t suffer from the disease in the same way as us humans. One organism’s “common cold” could easily be another organism’s apocalyptic plague. Each organism has a different immune system, and each immune system has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Currently, scientists believe that fruit bats are the natural carrier of the Ebola. The Ebola virus has little to no effect on the fruit bat, but when fruit bats and humans come into contact, the virus is able to make a jump into humans, where it then wreaks havoc.
Destruction Of Habitats Bringing New Diseases To Light
As humanity continues to cut down forests and destroy natural environments, we come into more contact with wild animals. These wild animals in turn may be harboring diseases that could turn out to be exceptionally deadly to humans.
Interestingly, those areas that are undergoing the most rapid and uncontrolled development are also those regions that are least prepared to deal with diseases. The destruction of natural habitats in Africa is only increasing, and as a result more and more diseases long locked away in the backwaters of the world are now coming into contact with human civilization.
In the past, diseases with high mortality rates would often burn out before they could spread beyond the local community. This would be especially true for people living in isolated areas, such as deep in the jungle. There were exceptions of course, such as the bubonic plague which slowly burned its way across the old world.
Now, advances means of transportation, such as airplanes and automobiles, means that diseases can travel rapidly. For example, within less than a year Ebola has spread from the deep and dense jungles of Western Africa to Europe and the United States.
Is Ebola Nature’s Revenge?
Given the perfect storm of conditions that are slowly coming to light it’s hard not to wonder if this is some sort of “revenge” being played out by nature. If you step back and look at nature as an entire ecosystem, humanity itself could be viewed as a sort of unsustainable “cancer”. Perhaps Ebola is nature’s cure?
We are reproducing too quickly, and not giving much thought to sustainable development and consumption. This is an extreme and bombastic view, of course, but given the wide-scale destruction of nature over the last hundreds years it’s hard not to wonder if Ebola and other diseased could be a sort of naturally occurring defense mechanism.