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Monday, 21 November 2016

Viruses (4) - Ebola

The Dutch flu outbreak in November made me realise once again how much viruses hate sunlight, in particular ultraviolet light. A 3 November 2016 NYT-Science article on the Ebola virus made me wonder two things: (1) Why does the Ebola virus survive the abundant sunlight of equatorial Africa? and (2) Why does Ebola "only" reside in a particular West-African region?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information on the Ebola virus is clear: "The Ebola virus is an “enveloped virus,” meaning that the core of the virus is surrounded by a lipoprotein outer layer. Enveloped viruses such as Ebola are more susceptible to destruction with a number of physical and chemical agents than viruses without lipoprotein envelopes. Physical agents that can eradicate Ebola virus include heat, sunlight, ultraviolet light, E-Beam, and Gamma Rays."

You would expect that there is plenty of sunlight and ultraviolet light in equatorial West Africa. That should kill the Ebola virus. What am I missing?

According to TIME, the reasons why Ebola has not spread quickly beyond Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone is that these "three most-affected countries already had overburdened health care infrastructure before the Ebola outbreak. Sierra Leone and Liberia had not yet fully recovered from the damaging effects of long civil wars — Sierra Leone had two doctors per 100,000 people and Liberia had only one". On the surface, this looks like a decent explanation.

However, back in 2014, the NYT also published an article called The Ebola Conspiracy Theories, "contending that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had patented the virus and was poised to make a fortune from a new vaccine it had created with the pharmaceutical industry". Please also read my blog The truth about conspiracy theories: "(1) an extraordinary event happens, (2) media struggling for explanations on the Why, (3) Government response not satisfactory".

The problem with viruses is that they appear to be incubators of death and life, while viruses are not even part of Nature's Tree of Life. There is little doubt that viruses kill people but there is also little doubt that viruses cause human gene modifications. Again, I stress that we know little to nothing about viruses, please see my blog Viruses - Origin and anomalies.

A disturbing fact in the recent NYT-Science article is that "The virus may have evolved a new weapon against its human hosts. In studies published on Thursday in the journal Cell, two teams of scientists report that a genetic mutation may have made Ebola more deadly by improving the virus’s ability to enter human cells." Links to Cell Journal #1 and Cell Journal #2.

NYT, November 2016: "It is not clear what role the mutation played in West Africa’s epidemic. Perhaps it was only minor, compared with geography and the poor state of region’s public health systems, Dr. Ball said. But the fact that Ebola did gain at least one advantage that made it better at infecting human cells worries him anyway. We will almost certainly face another outbreak."

It's possible - and perhaps even likely - that viruses "look" for human soft spots to test and improve their abilities. In that light, they almost behave like humans would.