Tuesday, January 31, 2012

95% mortality rate?

I may be a little weird, nerdy, geeky, or even maybe a combination of all three. I guess I changed my major to the right one, biology, and I love every minute of it. I am in the Emerging Pathogens course here at Ashland where we learn about various infectious diseases that defiantly cannot be seen with the naked eye, and cannot even be seen with many microsopes. However, they can cause some of the most horrific symptoms imaginable and kill you within minutes or days. Some of these symptoms do not even seem real; they seem like something out of a poor Hollywood torture movie. These infectious diseases have cumulatively caused more deaths than all the wars in mankind's history combined. Some of these pathogens have a mortality rate of up to 95%. In my mind, this is hard to fathom. I think to myself basically if I were to get infected with this pathogen I am dead. I may be weird and nerdy to find such an interest in topics like this, but I do. My professor, Dr. Paul Hyman, had recommended a non-fiction novel called "The Hot Zone". He said it was about one of these horrific pathogens called the Ebola virus that can cause fatal hemorrhagic bleeding out of people's eyes and ears. Hemorrhagic bleeding is a 15-30% loss of the total blood volume. This instantly had me hooked. As soon as I got out of class I went back to my room and ordered the book off Amazon. I just received the book today and had started reading, so far it is addicting to say the least. Below is a picture of the tiny virus that can cause the frightful damage.


After reading some of the book I decided to look for some information bout the infection and the virus itself. I came across an interesting blog post. Virology Blog. According to this blog post there has been 1850 cases of ebola virus and 1200 deaths since the virus was discovered. This equals a 65% fatality rate. That is scary to think that over half of all the people that get infected with it die. The plague outbreak in the middle ages only had about a 1/3 fatality rate. It is scary to think about what may happen if there were to be an outbreak of a pathogen of this type with a fatality rate about double that of the infamous plague. Due to the extreme danger of this pathogen the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has listed it as biosafety level 4, their highest safety level. This means that researchers that come in contact, or even in the general vicinity of the virus must have full protection suites, masks with their own air supply, rooms in the entrance and exit with multiple showers, and even an ultra-violot room to denature the virus and ensure that it is not brought out of the secure room.  However, I do not want to scare anyone. Ebola virus is an extremely rare pathogen in humans due to the fact that it has not adapted an effective means of transmission into humans. CDC info on Ebola Virus.

An example of a biosafety level 4 suit

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