On October 15th, 1976 the WHO released a bulletin that read:
Haemorrhagic Fever of Viral Origin. Between July and September 1976, it was observed in the region spanning N’zara to Maridi, in southern Sudan, sporadic cases of fever with haemorrhagic manifestations. It is thought that the first cases occurred among agricultural families. During the last week of September, the situation worsened considerably, 30 of 42 cases occurred in Maridi hospital among members of the staff; it is thought the disease was spread directly from one person to another. By October 9, 137 cases, 59 deaths, were reported for the region comprising N’zara, Maridi and Lirangu. The epidemic has caused panic on the local level…Samples from Sudan and Zaire have revealed the presence of a new virus, morphologically similar to Marburg, but antigenically different
This bulletin we read here is the beginning of the written and classification of what is now known as Ebola virus disease. Now in 2014 we see the headlines “A potential threat of a human catastrophe unparalleled in modern human times”, and President Obama stating it is “spiralling out of control, getting worse … with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us”. The CDC stated that the worse case scenario is that 1.4 million will be infected by January. However, with that said the EU stated that the threat to Europe of contacting Ebola is “low” which perhaps explains why the response from the global powers has been equally so.
Adia Benton at somatosphere.net writes a piece titled Race and the immuno-logics of Ebola response in West Africa which provides us with an example of a response or lack of response to the contagion of Sierra Leonean’s Dr. Olivet Buck by WHO officials. Adia states that. “this operating logic has a racial dimension, which has for too long gone unexamined and whose impact has been woefully underestimated”. With race comes intentional and not so intentional dividing practices.
Ebola Virus Disease is classified as a filovirus which are RNA viruses. The genetic makeup or material that makes up their genes is composed of ribonucleic acid. One of the most common viruses of the RNA type is the common cold which like Ebola and other RNA type viruses has a high mutation rate (due to the lack of DNA “proofreading”). The “specific components of filovirus infection are hemorrhage and disseminated intravascular coagulation” this hemorrhage is caused by blood clotting within the capillaries. This results in the body releasing chemicals which results in fever, swelling, and a drop in blood pressure. glycoproteins in infected cells results in a suppression of the immune response, which can eventually destroy the immune system. Different outbreaks (different species) have different mortality percentages.
With this short description of the pathogenesis of filoviruses we now must ask the question where does it come from, what is the origin story or reservoir and where is the virus when it hides? This spatial aspect of the disease is rarely thought about in the general public because the idea that contagions exist among (without actually causing symptoms) us still seems to be an esoteric idea. As we can see from the conspiratorial news starting to go viral (intended) on social media the origin is now either the United States Government or ISIS. It makes little sense if any sense at all this is the case in regards to this outbreak. However (to not mention this would be a disservice), because there is documentation that the United States discontinued their biological weapons program in 1969, and The Soviet Union continued theirs much longer and because other outbreaks have occurred in the past due to accidents (Marburg in 1987 and 1998) that have occurred in labs the possibility that these programs could be implicated in some way is not completely impossible. The case of negligence and apathy for the marginalized and poor is much more guilty: in other words inaction and not action should be put on trial.
The outbreak in Zaire in 1976 was not random at all as Paul Farmer explains, “This epidemic was anything but random, for it was amplified by substandard medical practices” Farmer recounts a page from Richard Preston’s best-seller The Hot Zone: “It hit the hospital like a bomb. It savaged patients and snaked like chain lightning out from the hospital through patients’ families. Apparently the medical staff had been giving patients injections with dirty needles.” In Zaire the disease was spread by nosocomial means: “only five syringes were issued to its nurses (who were actually nuns with little if any medical training) each morning, and they were used and reused between 300 and 600 patients each day.” This was in 1976, and now in 2014 where established state of the art BSL facilities exist (a new one being built in the US to be ready in 2017) we are seeing a classificatory Public Health Emergency of International Concern (WHO) issued only for the third time.
As Benton stated above and as Paul Farmer puts it here:
Much was made of the fact that non-communicable pathologies such as coronary artery disease and malignancies caused the majority of all world deaths in 1990. A very different picture emerges however when we compare causes of death among the wealthiest fifth of the world’s population to the afflictions that kill the poorest fifth: although only 8 percent of deaths among the world’s wealthiest were caused by infections or by maternal and prenatal mortality, fully 56 percent of all deaths among the poorest were caused by these pathologies, with infectious diseases at the head of the list.
Instead of the current blaming of the victims in the media (they are combative, paranoid, primitive) J. Daniel Kelly writes in Nature: “But the desperate shortage of Ebola diagnostic centres in Sierra Leone is fuelling the Ebola outbreak. People who think that they might have the disease do not want to spend several days trapped in an isolation unit, away from their families and surrounded by workers in spacesuits.”
The spacesuit is a sign of affluence and power which separates even more. The spacesuit acts as a liminal space between life and death. This space is of course part of the symbolic universe of all the participants. This is the place where imperialism lies and even the place where a determination of zoe and bios (infected not infected) resides. Our symbolic universe is tied up with the imaginary, the imaginary is the place where a lack of decision was made regarding the first case (of just this outbreak) which happened in 2013. Now that a case in Texas has occurred and the possibility remains that others can become infected ‘which could be me and not them’ I am vigilant and this has entered what we (United States citizens) deem important. We can even create our myths in order to deal with a lack of the Big Other. There is something to see here.
Farmer, Paul Infections and Inequalities 1999 University of California Press
Kelly, Daniel J Making Diagnostic centres a priority for Ebola crisis Nature, September 11,2014 pg 145 Print
Smith Ph.D, Tara C Ebola and Marburg Viruses 2011 Chelsea House Publishers