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Ebola–One Plane Away

July 2, 2014

While we fret over childish court rulings, and homeless children dare to cross our borders, the spread of Ebola virus gets buried. For true heroism, nothing beats Doctors Without Borders–for months, the main source of care and treatment in a growing epidemic. So far the disease has struck Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Most of our Google news feeds relegate the disease below the first screen on our monitors. But experts say it’s just one plane flight away from Paris. Yes, a place that “matters” (sarcasm).

What makes Ebola virus so deadly? An RNA virus, Ebola has a relatively simple structure, just eight genes encoding proteins. The small RNA  is coiled within a flexible tubular protein capsid. The main host cells the virus can infect are white blood cells, liver cells, and endothelial cells–cells that line the blood vessels. That’s quite a deadly combination. By infecting the white blood cells, the Ebola virus disrupts the immune system, avoiding effective defense. Also, the cells carry the virus through the blood, all throughout the body. When the endothelial cells get infected, the blood vessels leak. More from my post in April.


  1. July 2, 2014 11:44 am

    I suppose the only good news is that the incubation period is so short that you might not make your flight. Historically Ebola is so virulent that it burns itself out as potential hosts remove themselves from the infected. What is worrying is that it has infected more people than ever before. I hope it is contained very soon and doesn’t start spreading.

    MERS, of course, did start spreading, partly because the Saudi’s refused to admit they had a problem and an Egyptian doctor in Saudi informed authorities outside Saudi. He was fired, but we got word of the problem. Even so, at least one MERS case was identified in the US, a long plane hop away.

    If Ebola were to spread, the world will be in for a very bad time.

  2. Kim Orsborn permalink
    July 2, 2014 3:37 pm

    I learn so much from your posts, Joan. Thank you.

  3. Tom Keeling permalink
    July 19, 2014 9:07 pm

    Much of the reason the outbreak is continuing in Africa are local traditions wherein the family prepares the dead relative’s body for burial, thus passing infection through entire families and communities with ease. While it’s true that a case of ebola or similar hemorrhagic fever viruses could easily come to the U.S. by plane, and I’m a bit surprised we haven’t seen that, the liklihood of there being an outbreak here is remote, due to current disease surveillance and ability to quickly isolate potentially infected patients. Far more concerning are some of the biological frankenstein weapons cobbled together by the Russians during the cold war. It’s unclear how much of those, if any, still survive. Indeed, Putin may have restarted the biological weapons program over the last decade. Among their “proud acheivements” were smallpox, weaponized anthrax, and a more virulent version of Marburg virus, a cousin to Ebola.

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