[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.
"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.]
[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."