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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lassa Virus

I am reading a very interesting book titled: The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. In it she details the history of the Lassa Fever and the researchers who combated it's spread and documented it's effects. The virus was noted to kill 9:10 people who were infected in non-immune populations. For immune populations the death rate is still around 1-2:10. Most people cannot even muster a strong enough immune response to fight off repeated infection.

It is easy to think that we are insulated from the plague and viruses that prey on our bodies. Growing up in the United States I always figured that nothing like that could ever happen here. A plague in the US? That was the sort of thing you read about when studying the middle ages. And you pointed at all the people in the picture books doing strange things, drinking snake oil, burning bodies in piles, locking up their doors.

The reason that I thought that nothing like a horrible disease could happen to me or could happen in the US I connected with the book. The first page of the preface for the book reads like this:

We always want to believe that history happened only to "them," "in the past," and that somehow we are outside history, rather than enmeshed within it. Many aspects of history are unanticipated and unforeseen, predictable only in retrospect: the fall of the Berlin Wall is a single recent example. et in one vital area, the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases, we can already predict the future - and it is threatening and dangerous to us all. -Source

After reading this I was confounded by the fact that I had spent all of my life in denial about a critical problem that has struck at the heart of humanity and civilization time and time again. The black plague in 1300-1400's, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. These pandemics killed millions of people. By not being concerned with the spread of diseases, I in fact was contributing to a false sense of security that we have built up around ourselves in the civilized world.

We must understand that diseases, plagues, viruses and bacteria are very small and very real killers. The Lassa Virus and others can have devastating consequences of we ignore it's threat.

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