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The Hot Zone

Giovanni Maga maga at vetbio.unizh.ch
Thu Jan 11 08:38:31 EST 1996

In article <Pine.SUN.3.91.960110121858.4033A-100000 at panix2.panix.com>,
hasse at PANIX.COM (Hasse) wrote:

> Answer to Giovanni Maga and EdRegis,
> I don't think it's very interesting if nine, ten or eleven people have died 
> from Marburg, so far. What's interesting is that you both are downplaying 
> the health risks that are associated with Ebola and Marburg viruses. 

This is not true. Nobody said that cases of infections from Ebola or
Marburg should not be taken as biohazards. But in your posting there was a
sense of incoming catastrophe, like these viruses were actually
challenging the survival of the human race...this is unacceptable, even
more if you are a journalist. There are different ways to inform people.
You can point out the dramaticity of the Ebola infection, but still
recalling that, in spite of its morbidity, the current outbreaks have been
limited to a closed area, or you can do as reporters of very respectable
agencies (CNN, NBC) that called it "the virus of armageddon" or similar.
It doesn't change the real facts, but puts an unjustified fear in people
living some tens of thousands miles away from the site. I recall perfectly
that at the time of the kikwit outbreak this group registered something
like 200 postings per day, with people reporting the spreading of Ebola
through Europe from infected travellers, the fact that Ebola was airborne
and such amenities. Where have you been then? Where it was the correct
information? The truth IS that a scoop is much better than the real thing
and if the real thing is similar to a hot movie with big hollywood stars
it's even better...I hope you would not say that this story of Ebola
wasn't sensationalized well beyond its real gravity!

> I called CDC this morning and they confirm that neither Ebola Reston or 
> Marburg is an exception. My CDC contact emphasized that "we don't know 
> all we want to know about these viruses". Ebola and Marburg viruses are 
> still "very much unknown, and we don't know if they could take another
> unexpected turn".      

Every respectable scientist will say that. But not every respectable
scientist will panic because we do not know all we want.

> I agree with you Giovanni that you don't need to be "concerned about being 
> infected with FIV", even if it's close to HIV and you still rub your cats 
> head".
> I have two cats myself, and I don't fear for FIV. I also have friends 
> with HIV, and I'm not afraid to give them a big hug.

That is absolutely correct, since HIV is not transmitted through hugs.

> But, if I had a monkey from Africas rainforest - I would not rub the monkeys
> head, give it a big hug or handle it without the kind of protection gear 
> that CDC, here in the U.S., recommends for laboratory workers and monkey 
> handlers. Call CDC and ask them for their prevention guidelines or call one 
> of the best primate facilities in the world, the Southwest Primate Research 
> Facility, in San Antonio. Ask them about if they would rub the head of a
monkey with suspect
> Ebola Reston or if they would even consider to compare FIV and Ebola Reston?

I beg your pardon: how many times in your life will happen to you to meet
a monkey from African rainforest and to have the chance to rub its head? I
always wear gloves and protective goggles when I use radioactive isotopes
for my experiments. But then I dismiss them when I go home. Nobody say
that working in a mokey facility couldn't be dangerous, but it must be
said also that people not working in such enviroments MUST NOT wear
protective clothings. It is extremely important for professionally exposed
people as well for people living in the areas where also the virus was
detected to be perfectly aware of the risks. It is as well extremely
important that people walking in the streets of NewYork or London are
perfectly aware that THEIR risk to contract Ebola is far less than the
risk to be killed in a car accident. This is the perspective that is often
missing in the news reports.

 > And, as far as 
> I know, nobody has got FIV or HIV from a cat...

HIV does not infect cats. FIV does infect cats but not humans. Thus there
is no reason to panic.

> I don't know what the TB bacterium has to do with virology, and I don't 
> believe that people that seriously care about Ebola - doesn't care about 
> the reemergency of "old killers". 

This is untrue. How many articles did you write recently about the
reemergency of old killers? People know everything about Ebola (even if
with some approximation), how much do they know about TB? How much do they
know about the fact that in "healthy countries" like Sweden (or US, UK and
Europe in general), our old microbes are getting everyday more resistant
to antibiotics and that if the tendency will not be changed by new
solutions in a few years we will be again back at the time when we had no
pennicilin? Isn't it fearsome? And it is true. Ask your CDC contact (or
maybe just a clinical microbiologist) about the emergence of antibiotic
resistance. Simply to say that if we are speaking about correct medical
information, it would be more useful for people living in western
countries that they knew, for example, how not to abuse of medical drugs
or what are the adverse effects of smoke on their health or how to prevent
cardiovascular deseases instead how to avoid Ebola infections. It is
always this good medical information that I cannot find in newspapers, but
then I can know how many people died in kikwit and what to do if I meet an
African monkey in the subway...very useful.

>But I get the point that "new exciting 
> emerging viruses are more COOL" and I believe that I've heard that before. 
> But, personally, I don't think any deadly virus or bacteria are specially 
> "cool".

Unfortunately many of your colleagues do not think the same. There have
been already two outbreaks of Ebola ten or so years ago. Were they so
poularized? How much do you think that books like Hot Zone and Coming
Plague or the movie Hot Zone contributed in attracting the attention of
people on Ebola, thus, in turn, suggesting that 24h-per-day reports from
the "hot zone" would have had a good audience?

> CDC an USAMRIID has repeatedly warned Washington that microbes like Ebola, 
> could mutate to an airborne, superlethal hemorrhagic-fever virus. I 
> don't think that our sharpest brains and experts on Ebola , has lost 
> their senses because they have read something that "imaginative people 
> have figured out"

Of course not. But saying that viruses (forgive me, but microbe doesn't
sound too much correct to me for a virus. Just a matter of taste) like
Ebola can mutate etc. is absolutely correct. However, spreading this
information BEFORE it has happened, without saying that it can also NEVER
happen and how much probable it could be etc. etc. is absolutely of no
utility for people and contributes to spread unjustified panic, since
non-virologists or at least people not educated in biological sciencies
cannot evaluate the real risk and tend to believe that something is true
because it's written on a newspaper.

> I also  believe that our real experts on Ebola and Marburg doesn't rely on 
> exaggerated journalistic-style reports. And, howerer - those reports 
> are not written by journalists like me.

Glad to hear it. But if your job is to give correct scientific information
there is nothing exceptional in it.

> Finally, Giovanni - Yes, I've read textbooks in virology, pathology, 
> immunology... Have you read any serious Ebola-journalism recently? 
> Try Laurie Garrett's "The Coming Plague" and her reports from 
> Kikwit '95.

Thanks for the reference, but I still prefer to follow the scientific
literature about Filoviridae when I can. It is not my main field, but if
you like I collected some references I can share. Nothing that you can't
find on Medline, anyway.

Kind Regards,

G.Maga, PhD
Institute of Veterinary Biochemistry
University of Zuerich-Irchel (CH)

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