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The Hot Zone: A sobering must-read after West African Ebola outbreak

Scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles budding from a single chronically-infected VERO E6 cell (25,000x magnification). NIAID
Scanning electron micrograph of filamentous Ebola virus particles budding from a single chronically-infected VERO E6 cell (25,000x magnification). NIAIDNIH:NIAID Creative Commons (free use)

The Hot Zone


It looks as though we can stop the rush to educate people on tolerance, climate warming, nuclear accidents, and stuff like that. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published a conference transcript from last week confirming that Ebola can be airborne. Today, the New York Times published a piece indicating that the West African Ebola Outbreak is vastly underestimated in numbers, and this graph shows it to be the worst Ebola outbreak to date. It seemed that a review of the 1994 Bestseller, The Hot Zone, might be a good idea as a primer on the problem. Gulp. The book indicates that nature may be well on her way to solving the humans-not-playing-well-with-others-and-killing-the-planet-problem.

In a sense, the earth is mounting an immune response against the human species. It is beginning to react to the human parasite, the flooding infection of people, the dead spots of concrete all over the planet, the cancerous rot-outs in Europe, Japan and the United States, thick with replicating primates, the colonies mingling and spreading and threating to shock the biosphere with mass extinctions. Perhaps the biosphere does not "like" the idea of five billion humans. Or it could be also said that the extreme amplification of the human race, which has occurred only in the past hundred years or so, has suddenly produced a very large quantities of meat, which is sitting everywhere in the biosphere and may not be able to defend itself against a life form that might want to consume it. Nature has interesting ways of balancing itself. The rain forest has its own defenses. The earth's immune system, so to speak, has recognized the presence of the human species and is starting to kick in. The earth is attempting to rid itself of an infection by the human parasite. Perhaps AIDS is the first step in a natural process of clearance." - The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston

So why this review, if Mother Nature's got Her own auto-immune system to fight the virus-like amplification of humanity, and there's not a single thing we can do about it?

It's the hope that if we're good kids, Mom will be nicer. This review aims to promote human behavioral changes which could protect us from the emergence of deadly viruses in the first place. These behavioral changes are culturally engrained, and involve respect for Nature, adherence to balance, sustainability, ethics, intelligent living, spiritual and interspecies communion. Somehow, when we lost the cultures that valued these things, we lost a part of our humanity. Koyaanisqatsi.

If we want the world to go on, it seems we must fight to become like Gandhi - to become the change we want to see in the world, and to develop our human potential fully. We must embody balance, and conscious ways of living, and pass these on. It's necessary to live in nonviolence and peaceful-co-existence with the rest of Creation, in consideration of it. Then, the earth doesn't need to protect itself by unleashing plagues exposed as its last defense. Perhaps kindness and love can stop the earth's merciless and terminal immune-response -- mutating plagues. It's the only thing this zen practitioner can think of, the only defense that might appease that Great and Terrible Mother: Nature.

With the emergence of a new Ebola strain in West Africa, these words of Richard Preston's are haunting:

You could say the rain-forest viruses are extremely good at looking after their own interests. The AIDS virus is a fast mutator; it changes constantly. It is a hypermutant, a shape shifter, spontaneously altering its character as it moves through populations and through individuals. It mutates even in the course of one infection, and a person who dies of HIV is usually infected with multiple strains, which have all arisen spontaneously in the body. The fact that the virus mutates rapidly means that vaccines for it will be very difficult to develop.

In a larger sense, it means that the AIDS virus is a natural survivor of the changes in ecosystems. The AIDS virus and other emerging viruses are surviving the wreck of the tropical biosphere because they can mutate faster than any changes taking place in their ecosystems. They must be good at escaping trouble, if any of them have been around for as long as four billion years. I tend to think of rats leaving a ship.

I suspect that AIDS might not be Nature's preeminent display of power. Whether the human race can actually maintain a population of (five at the time) billion or more without a crash with a hot virus remains an open question. Unanswered. (I think we are learning the answer now). The answer lies hidden in the labyrinth of tropical ecosystems. AIDS is the revenge of the rain forest. It is only the first act of the revenge."

Our world population as of the updating of this article is 7,185,761,900, up 26,00+ people from the writing of this article yesterday, with the world's heaviest population centers being as follow:

Top 10 Most Populous Countries

1. China 1,355,692,576
2. India 1,236,344,631
3. United States 318,892,103
4. Indonesia 253,609,643
5. Brazil 202,656,788
6. Pakistan 196,174,380
7. Nigeria 177,155,754
8. Bangladesh 166,280,712
9. Russia 142,470,272
10. Japan 127,103,388

Given all this information, doesn't it seem prudent to change our way of life? Doesn't it make sense to go back to the basics, and to alter our own nature to be less viral and more beneficial to the rest of the planet that isn't human?

But those changes are dramatic. The disuse of petroleum. The alteration of cultures to reduce emphasis on procreation. A move away from factory farms and corporations as people. A change in economic platforms. A swap from consumerism to the type of efficiency embodied in our Native American ancestors, who used every bone and sinew of wild animals taken in fair fights for sustenance. Idealistic? Perhaps once, this was idealism. Now it is stark a matter of life and death.

The viruses are coming, so it's best to know as much about them as possible. It seems that Ebola, or some other virus or virus mix, could become the so called "zombie apocalypse" that speaks to our primordial fears, even as we "know" that "zombies" are ''fiction''. At least Ebola is getting less gruesome as it learns to live in its host without killing it in the more grotesque ways described in The Hot Zone (non-fiction), but the next book by Preston, (fiction) The Cobra Event, where bio-terror weapons are created by crossing viral strains, points to zombie-like symptoms.

We don't know. We can only prepare ourselves psychologically for the worst, to get rid of the unconscious worry that grinds at our psyche all the time. Yes, the monster is real, alive and well deep inside the heart of the most biodiverse places on Earth - our rainforests. So behave. 'Scared Straight' yet?

Certain strains of Ebola ARE airborne - in the Reston Ebola case, it was transmitted in the air between monkeys through exploding lung tissue. We don't know if the virus has learned how to transmit through lungs and air between humans yet. There is so much we don't know. The viruses are evolving. Mass depopulation could be eminent, given levels of deforestation of the rainforests, and the condition of humanity.

Despite the horror of it, it somehow feels better to know the nature of the monster in the closet. Now, one may know which questions to ask. It seems that the most important one is this:

Are you using your power, energy and influence for life, or for death? I.e.: are you the type of human being that gives the human race a good name, or a bad one?

It would seem, if we are to learn from those who have spent their lives facing such monsters, that it's important to live consciously, and to enjoy our lives as much as we possibly can. It's essential to step away from the information, the news, the analysis, the electronics, and to get some sunshine. That seems to be the conclusion of the man who discovered Ebola, former CDC researcher Karl Johnson, who, after his lifetime of brave contributions to medicine, spends his spare time fly-fishing in Montana and consulting.

For More Information:

CDC call confirms airborne Ebola precautions on August 5, 2014 in conference call with hospitals: