Slate Wiper

[Preface: I came of age in the fifties...having been born in 1943. I remember, for no apparent reason, buying science magazines in the corner "variety" store (as such were known then) and walking slowly about reading of cells, dna, scientific this and that. Not having a scientific mind-set, I couldn't (and still can't) figure this out. But there is something in me that causes a peculiar attraction to science. My brother has, of course, taken this tendency more to heart than I. Nevertheless, certain aspects of science/biology/virology/whatever hold attractions for me. Knowing this, let's move on.]

There are almost as many bacteria in human bodies as human cells. Ninety percent of the weight of feces is bacterial. Some of these bacteria have invasive properties, enzymes that them to destroy our tissue, like the flesh-eating streptococcus. These bacteria now have the capability to inactivate just about any antibiotic available to man.

Pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumonia) normally inhabits human lungs and it usually does so without causing undue harm. But, weakened immune system could allow pneumococcus to accelerate it's growth and run amuck. Now it has been found that pneumococcus has special receptors at it's surface to capture DNA molecules from another bacterium or from the environment. If this DNA carries antibiotic resistance, the pneumococcus has the machinery to permanently incorporate imported DNA into its chromosome, making all offspring resistant as well.

In August 1967 three factory workers in Marburg, Germany, reported in sick, suffering from muscle aches and mild fevers. The three men were employed at Behringwerke AG, the vaccine-producing subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Hoechst AG and had been handling monkeys...The following day the three became nauseated, their spleens enlarged and were tender to the touch...their eyes became increasingly bloodshot. Day by day more workers fell ill...there was much pain. Red rashes broke out, throats became raw, capillaries ruptured, nerves shrieked due to lack of oxygen. Skin died and blood was vomited...skin peeled from genitals...blood coagulated and overworked hearts gave out...The Marburg virus had arrived in Europe.

Article Preface

"When the world ends, it will be like when the names of things are changed during the peyote hunt. All will be different, the opposite of what it is now. Now there are two eyes in the heavens, Dios Sol and Dios Fuego. Then, the moon will open his eye and become brighter. The sun will become dimmer. There will be no more differences. No more men and women. No child and no adult. All will change places..." Huichol proverb


If indeed the Earth is a "being, with skin, soul, and organs..." If the "skin [is] the soil," and if it is true that "the soul [is] contained within the rocks and bones of the dead, [and that] the organs included rivers (the bloodstream) and wind (the lungs). We live upon the Earth "as millions of tiny microorganisms live on human skin"

Nicholas Wade: "In the remotest tropics of Africa and South America lurk a coterie of viruses that infect animals or insects and seldom bother man. But people occasionally stray into their path, with results usually horrifying enough to mark the annals of medicine. "Most of these viruses cause hemorraghic fever. They make the internal organs bleed and rot. Many patients die, oozing virus-laden blood contagious to those who tend them. Last month [Oct., 1994] one of these exotic organisms, known as the Sabia virus, escaped from a high-security laboratory at Yale University. For 12 days it roamed the streets of New Haven and even visited Boston. As luck would have it, the virus failed to spread beyond its newly acquired host, a researcher it infected when a centrifuge tube broke [and splattered the virus borne medium into his eyes and nose]. Neither did it manage to attack any of the 80 people in contact with him and involved with his care.

"The researcher was treated with an antiviral drug and pulled through. But the incident raised disquieting questions. How could such an extremely hazardous organism be allowed to escape? And why is man still at such mortal peril from microbes when medical skills have reached unparalleled heights?

"The answer to the first question is easy: no amount of safety equipment can overwhelm the human capacity for error [or the tendency of Murphy's Law to prevail]. When the centrifuge tube shattered, the Yale researcher washed down the area with disinfectant and thought no more of it. He didn't report the incident, as required, and when he developed a fever several days later he at first ascribed it to malaria. In the end no harm was done, but the virus eluded all the sophisticated barriers, filters and procedures that were meant to insure it could be studied safety.

"In the last two decades Americans have been hit by a wave of new or at least newly recognized microbial assailants. There's Lyme disease and Legionnaires disease, toxic shock syndrome and Hantavirus. There's a chilling variation of the common gut bacterium E. coli, known as 0157:H7, that has acquired the ability to hemorrhage the bowel and kidney and kill its weaker victims. And, of course, there is AIDS. Because so little progress is being reported, the 10th International Conference on AIDS, held in Yokohama, Japan, last month [Sept., 1994], was the last to convene annually; scientists will now meet every two years.

"Drug-resistant organisms, though alarming, are at least known quantities. The strange new diseases erupting on American soil are thought to be mostly ancient organisms that lacked the opportunity to attack until people blundered into their habitat. The AIDS viruses have been confined for millennia to African monkeys or isolated human groups until civilization's encroachment on the forest let them expand their range. Various events then combined to launch AIDS as a global plague. Two particularly susceptible groups, a number of highly promiscuous gay men and abusers of intravenous drugs, were portals for its entry into the United States.

"That pattern - disruption of a virus's native ecology and a receptive host here - is a recipe for new plagues. The Sabia virus, which got loose in New Haven, and its grim cousins the Marburg

[No one can explain how this virus is transmitted - it's too dangerous to investigate. Researchers in Marburg, Germany, died from the disease after working with African Green monkeys, but the source is still unknown. The symptoms begin with a sore throat, high fever, headache, diarrhea, chest pains, and skin rash. Small white blisters cover the body, and a brain hemorrhage that can send its victims into a psychotic rage before they eventually die]


[In 1976 doctors tried to explain why hundreds of people became "ghostlike" and resembled "zombies" before dying of the Ebola virus in Zaire. Victims complain of headache and fever before hemorrhaging starts throughout the body. Reports of blood spurting out all orifices - eyes, mouth, anus, tears in the skin - sent U.S. researchers scrambling to know more about this virus.]

and Lassa...

[The virus enters the body through openings in the skin and causes headache and chills while it inflames your eyes to a bright red. Lassa goes for the organs and causes violent vomiting, coma, and eventually death. Five thousand people in western Africa died of it in 1989, and in Nigeria people are so afraid of this highly contagious virus that those who have the symptoms are not admitted into hospitals].

These viruses are ax murderers among microbes but too vicious for their own good; they kill their victims too quickly for efficient spread and have as yet acquired no animal host in the United States.

"Far more alarming is Hantavirus, which has taken up permanent residence in the United States by infecting rodents. People are infected when they breath in virus particles that are shed in rat droppings and blown into the air. Hantavirus signaled its presence in this country with a violent outbreak among the Navajo [Dine] and others. Of 88 people known to have been infected, more than half have died.

[This virus gets its name from the Hantaan River in Korea, where hundreds of American soldiers were killed by the virus after contracting it from mice in nearby rice fields. The virus, present in a mouses's urine and droppings, can be inhaled when the excretions are dry. Initial symptoms can be confused with the flu (high fever, chills, aches), but then the virus attacks the kidneys and causes internal bleeding. Last year a new strain of hantaan, which targets the lungs, afflicted the Dine...some of them healthy in the morning but dead by sunset.]

"As the world shrinks to a village, a great biological melange has been set in motion. In an experiment fraught with peril, the dangerous microbes of long-isolated ecologies are being stirred into the main pool. The Indians of North and South America were utterly unprepared for the diseases unleashed on them by the Europeans. Now it's modern Americans' turn to confront novel pathogens, rashly disturbed from their ancient recesses in tropical forests."

Richard Preston: "Ebola Zaire attacks every organ and tissue in the human body except skeletal muscle and bone. It is a perfect parasite because it transforms virtually every part of the body into a digested slime of virus particles. The seven mysterious proteins that, assembled together, make up the Ebola-virus particle, work as a relentless machine, a molecular shark, and they consume the body the body as the virus makes copies of itself. Small blood clots begin to appear in the bloodstream, and the blood thickens and slows, and the clots begin to stick to the walls of blood vessels.

This is known as pavementing, because the clots fit together in a mosaic. The mosaic thickens and throws more clot, and the clots drift through the bloodstream into the small capillaries, where they get stuck. This shuts off the blood supply to various parts of the body, causing dead spots to appear in the brain, liver, kidneys, lungs, intestine, testicles, breast tissue (of men as well as women), and all through the skin. The skin develops red spots, called petechiae, which are hemorraghes under the skin. Ebola attacks connective tissue with particular ferocity; it multiplies in collagen, the chief constituent protein of the tissue that holds the organs together. (The seven Ebola proteins somehow chew up the body's structural proteins.) In this way, collagen in the body turns to mush, and the underlayers of the skin die and liquefy. The skin bubbles up into a sea of tiny white blisters mixed with red spots known as maculopapular rash. This rash has been likened to tapioca pudding. Spontaneous rips appear in the skin, and hemorrhagic blood pours from the rips. The red spots on the skin grow and spread and merge to become huge, spontaneous bruises, and the skin goes soft and pulpy, and can tear off if it is touched with any kind of pressure. Your mouth bleeds, and you bleed around your teeth, and you may have hemorrhages from the salivary glands-literally every opening in the body bleeds, no matter how small. The surface of the tongue turns brilliant red and then sloughs off, and is swallowed or spat out. It is said to be extraordinarily painful to lose the surface of one's tongue. The tongue's skin may be torn off during rushes of the black vomit. The back of the throat and the lining of the windpipe may also slough off, and the dead tissue slides down the windpipe into the lungs or is coughed up with sputum. Your heart bleeds into itself; the heart muscle softens and has hemorrhages into its chambers, and the blood squeezes out of the heart muscle as the heart beats, and it floods the chest cavity. The brain becomes clogged with dead blood cells, a condition known as sludging the brain. Ebola attacks the lining of the eyeball, and the eyeballs may fill up with blood: you may go blind. Droplets of blood stand out on the eyelids: you may weep blood. The blood runs from your eyes down our cheeks and refuses to coagulate. You may have a hemispherical stroke, in which one whole side of the body is paralyzed, which is invariably fatal in a case of Ebola. Even while the body's internal organs are becoming plugged with coagulated blood, the blood that streams out of the body cannot clot; it resembles whey being squeezed out of curds. The blood has been stripped of its clotting factors. If you put the runny Ebola blood in a test tube and look at it, you see that the blood is destroyed. Its red cells are broken and dead. The blood looks as if it has been buzzed in an electric blender.

"Ebola kills a great deal of tissue while the host is still alive. It triggers a creeping, spotty necrosis that spreads through all the internal organs. The liver bulges up and turns yellow, begins to liquefy, and then it cracks apart. The cracks run across the liver and deep inside it, and the liver completely dies and goes putrid. The kidneys become jammed with blood clots and dead cells, and cease functioning. As the kidneys fail, the blood becomes toxic with urine. The spleen turns into a huge, hard blood clot the size of a baseball. The intestines may fill up completely with blood. The lining of the gut dies and sloughs off into the bowels and is defecated along with large amounts of blood. In men, the testicles bloat up and turn black-and-blue, the semen goes hot with Ebola, and the nipples may bleed. In women, the labia turn blue, livid, and protrusive, and there may be massive vaginal bleeding. The virus is catastrophic for a pregnant woman: the child is aborted spontaneously and is usually infected with Ebola virus, born with red eyes, and a bloody nose.

"Ebola destroys the brain more thoroughly than does Marburg, and Ebola victims often go into epileptic convulsions during the final stage. The convulsions are generalized grand mal seizures-the whole body twitches and shakes, the arms and legs thrash around, and the eyes, sometimes bloody, roll up into the head. The tremors and convulsions of the patient may smear or splatter blood around. Possibly this epileptic splashing of Ebola is one of Ebola's strategies for success-it makes the victim go into a flurry of seizures as he dies, spreading blood all over the place, thus giving the virus a chance to jump to a new host-a kind of transmission through smearing.

"Ebola (and Marburg) multiplies so rapidly and powerfully that the body's infected cells become crystal-like blocks of packed virus particles. These crystals are broods of virus getting ready to hatch from the cells. They are known as bricks. The bricks, or crystals, first appear near the center of the cell and then migrate toward the surface. As a crystal reaches into a cell wall, it disintegrates into hundreds of individual virus particles, and the broodlings punch through the cell wall like hair and float away in the bloodstream of the host. The hatched Ebola particles cling to cells everywhere in the body, and get inside them, and continue to multiply. It keeps on multiplying until areas of tissue all through the body are filled with crystalloids, which hatch, more Ebola particles drift into the bloodstream, and the amplification continues inexorably until a droplet of the host's blood can contain a hundred million individual virus particles.

"After death, the cadaver suddenly deteriorates: the internal organs, having been dead or partially dead for days, have already begun to dissolve, and a sort of shock-related meltdown occurs. The corpses connective tissue, skin, and organs, already peppered with dead spots, heated by fever, and damaged by shock, begin to liquefy, and the fluids that leak from the cadaver are saturated with Ebola-virus particles."

Ecosystem Fights Back...Part One

Ecosystem Fights Back...Part Two

Ecosystem Fights Back...Part Three

First Nations