Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ebola 12. The Mali Border.

I saw this photo first yesterday, on BBC.  It has been haunting me; literally; ever since.  I've been on and off about whether to share it here; it seems to have mostly vanished from the media feeds; I would guess because it is too disturbing; thought provoking, bottom of the pit sad, and frightening.

The file I uploaded is high enough resolution for full screen; get it big enough so you can really see it.

My narrative:  This beautiful woman has dressed up, neat and lovely in her good clothes; for a day in town.  A treat, pretty certainly.  She has put worries aside, for just a little while.

Then she is abruptly confronted.  Required to stand still and be monitored.

To see if she is going to be the next to die.

She knows she needs to stand, for the good of all.  She stands.  She wishes she could run away from the muzzle of the thermometer; which feels like a gun; though she knows perfectly well it isn't.

She can't run; there isn't anywhere to run.  She has already seen death, or knows it is coming closer every day; and there is nothing to do; but stand.  And wait.

I find the panic in our press and among our officials offensive beyond belief.  These people on the Mali border are not panicked.  They're doing all they can to cope; and live, while they can.

With nothing but words from the rest of the world, to help them.  She knows.

I have a lot of contempt boiling inside these days, too.

She haunts me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ebola 11 — New York City, and Mali.

And what can one say?

I hope Dr. Spencer pulls through.  I really hope he was not shedding virus in the NYC subway system Wednesday evening.  Or into the NYC sewer system, with the large resident rat population.

Will rats spread Ebola!?!  Gasp!  We just, plain, totally, absolutely DO NOT KNOW.

I guarantee you will hear a pundit from NYC today scoffing at the idea of rats becoming infected, probably citing the CDC, and, dripping scorn, "Oh, this has just never been known to happen!"  And that's totally true.  "We" haven't seen it.  You need to learn to recognize that language as intentionally misleading, however.  This is what the CDC has to say, buried in the technical bits:

"...these viruses naturally reside in an animal reservoir host or arthropod vector. They are totally dependent on their hosts for replication and overall survival. For the most part, rodents and arthropods are the main reservoirs for viruses causing VHFs. The multimammate rat, cotton rat, deer mouse, house mouse, and other field rodents are examples of reservoir hosts. "

Generally, for the entire class of viral hemorrhagic fevers.  Spencer had diarrhea before he went in to the hospital.  Ebola is known to be able to survive for 1-2 days outside the body.

And what can you do about it?  Not a darned thing.  What can the Mayor of NYC, and the Governor of NY do about it?  Not a thing; we'll just have to wait and see.

Amid all the utter nonsense still being broadcast by the major media; I found the video below yesterday.  I recommend it highly; and I'll say that scientifically, I'm in 100% agreement with this man's views.  But so far, he's the only one from the inside of the Epidemiology world who is pushing these points.  Keep in mind this is a talk to an audience primarily of his peers; highly educated public health workers.  Sometimes he talks very fast, and in jargon; but most of it is quite easily understood.

I admire Dr. Osterholm greatly- he has huge courage; and stamina, to speak out in this fashion.  It will make him no friends, and change few minds, and no one will ever thank him.  And he knows it; and keeps at it.  Someone made the mistake of placing him as Director of The Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.  How a diligent, intelligent, articulate, and fully competent scientist wound up in that seat, I do not know.

I won't try to imbed the video here, that seems to go goofy; so just go right to YouTube.

Incidentally, I am not at all a fan of the person who posted the video; I'd have chosen differently, but this was the only version I could find.

And in Mali.  That story is a complete heartbreaker.  The stories haven't settled yet, but it's clear it was a small child- whose mother/ or father/ or grandmother (I've seen all 3) died of Ebola in Guinea; and relatives took the the child into Mali to place it with a relative who could care for it.  Ebola rode along; on "public transport"; the child has Ebola.

As Osterholm states, repeatedly; we don't know anything about the virus in this outbreak.  And the very most dangerous thing you can do; regarding controlling panic in the population - is lie to them,  Us.  When all the people in NYC do not believe what the "authorities" tell them- then we'll have chaos.

So; gloomy.  One weird cheerful aspect; a pessimist blogger is already on record as betting that now, no more doctors will travel to West Africa to help; because they are not truly protected.

I know a bunch of doctors.  I'm going to bet the opposite.  I will bet you there is a substantial uptick in US doctors volunteering to go.  You have to be crazy to want to be a doctor in the first place, right?  There you go.  Doctors want to be needed; it's a basic motivator.  Nobody needs them more than West Africa.

And hopefully, next time- returning doctors will go to a lovely lodge on an island off Maine; and stay there relaxing for a month.  No, not 21 days.  We utterly do not know that's a real limit; it's just the one we've seen so far.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola 10 - Today's Mystery.

The US seems to have escaped having Ebola get loose in the general population.  A very good thing, and very lucky thing, considering the number of bloopers from the various agencies involved.

Like Sherlock Holmes (and Broadway, presently), we are still presented with a mystery of absence; the "Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime."  The dog that did not bark.

How did Duncan's fiancée escape infection?

I'm totally delighted for her that she did, and the 3 other people who shared the apartment; but according to what we think we know about how the virus is transmitted- she should be infected; and apparently, is not.  I would not be surprised if she came down with it yet; somewhere out past the theoretical 21 day limit  Evolving to work more slowly is a good tactic for most pathogens, and is on the route to becoming non-lethal some day.  But at this point in the epidemic, emerging more slowly, with fewer symptoms, is an excellent way to escape control methods; and keep spreading.

But it's looking good at the moment.  Keep your fingers crossed.

The news from Africa is not any better, however.  And a factor to keep in mind; the headlines on Ebola today, there on Page 2, are first; "Nigeria Free Of Ebola!"  - which of course, is simply not true- the virus is pretty certainly still there in its animal hosts; what they mean is, no humans in Nigeria now have active Ebola.  That's good; but not in the least unexpected, since the infection there was always very limited, and rapidly addressed.  Second headline, much smaller font, is the information that cases in the core epidemic are still accelerating, and ability to cope with it there is still totally inadequate.  But, hey- no new cases in Dallas.


Ok, two useful points, I hope; both to do with panic.

Firstly, we just had a wonderful, terrific, demonstration of PANIC!!! in the USA.

Not- among the populace.  Sure, 3 hypochondriacs called 911 reporting they thought they had it; but everybody else in the USA was pretty calm about it all.

The world of "Officialdom", though- was something else.  Officials everywhere were, truly, panicking.  Making announcements, pontifications, taking "actions" to ensure your safety, blithering and blathering nonstop.  And the Press provides them with an echo chamber, to keep the PANIC! reverberating.  Sells papers, you know.

Expect that.  It will continue.  Most officials are terrified that someone will now hold them immediately responsible- for something.  And it scares the bejeepers out of them.  Particularly when some nitwit is shoving a microphone in their face and demanding what they're going to do.

Secondly - if/when you find yourself starting to panic; someday somewhere; literally— stop it.

You can stop it.  As in; find yourself panicking; and regain your self control.  I know you can; because I've done it.

I loved "caving" when I was in college; otherwise known as "spelunking."  Wonderful, top to bottom.  Good companions, good tests of yourself, fascinating biology and geology.  Great.

So, like ya do, I kept pushing myself further and further, attempting harder and harder caves.

Until; one day; I found myself under about 300 feet of solid limestone; about 1,000 feet into a crack so tiny you had to take your helmet off, push it in front of you, and turn your head sidewise; with at least another 1,000 feet yet to go; all of it that tight...

All of a sudden- I did not want to be there.

Really really did not.  Hated it.  Wanted out.  NOW.  And as my anxiety came up; I very, very seriously considered panicking; and making somebody else responsible for getting me the hell out of there.

What stopped me was the forceful realization that in all probability; if I panicked in that tiny impossible crack- no one would ever be ABLE to get me out.  And the realization grew, that panic was a very poor option; with bad probabilities for survival.  Screw the self esteem and public opinion; panic was likely going to kill me.

So, I didn't.  The only way out of here was forward.  So I went.  Then I had to go back through that crawlway again; but now, of course, I knew I could do it.  And of course ego balloons, when you emerge from the cave altogether.  Whoa, cool; when can we do that again?

But I've never forgotten the "almost".  I just about lost it.  Within millimeters.

But I didn't.

So; when you see your mayor and the sheriff panicking- remember.  You don't have to.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ebola 9. Not yet, probably.

So here we are at Ebola Does Dallas 2.  Although now it turns out it may also be Ebola Does Frontier Airlines, Cleveland, and Akron- and maybe Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

The second nurse from Dallas- was in Akron, Ohio for several days, visiting family... before she went to the Cleveland airport, flew back to Dallas, and was placed in isolation the next day.  And- some sources are reporting she 'had a slight fever' before she got on the airplane.  In other words, she was "symptomatic" in Cleveland.

But hey, Frontier assures us they "cleaned the aircraft thoroughly, according to CDC guidelines" before putting it back into service.  "Flight 1143, on which the woman flew from Cleveland to Dallas/Fort Worth, was the last trip of the day Monday for the Airbus A320. But Tuesday morning the plane was flown back to Cleveland and then to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., back to Cleveland and then to Atlanta and finally back to Cleveland again...:

Then they took it out of service when notified about the ebola on board.  In other words, their cleaning was not for ebola; but just their standard.

Remember my points about wandering about in airports?  Here we are.  This is a huge vulnerability.

This is a deeply systemic weakness; quite apart from our astonishing stupidities.  Whose idea was it to ok travel to Ohio for a nurse who'd just been working closely with ebola???

Would I run from Dallas now?  Not yet.

At the moment, all the cases are associated with the hospital there.  They might be able to contain that, yet.  If we get to the point where there are a couple of new ebola cases a day in Dallas- which are not instantly relatable to the hospital; I think that would do it.  Even the very slow responses of officialdom might, at that point, be willing to roadblock Dallas; and only allow people in and out who have official reasons.  You and your family, don't qualify.

I was delighted to see the NYT actually cite "evolutionary biologists" - who study viruses - on their opinions about ebola.  I was not delighted with the messages transmitted from these scientists however- there are glaring errors - of "belief" not science.  One of the most bizarre, to me, is the repetition of "oh, we've never seen that happen." followed by the statement that therefore, obviously, it never will.

Stunning to me; this kind of thinking is now possibly the prevailing habit in both science and medicine. And I promise you, 40 years ago, that opinion would have been laughed out of any seminar; it's not only asinine; it's been proven wrong repeatedly, definitively.

Our science; our medicine, have been becoming stilted and untested, and un-culled by reality.  The truth of the value of your science it not its reproducibility; its only the repeatability of your grants.  A huge amount of science now being published is NOT reproducible; possibly as little at 10-30%;  a few are starting to worry about that.  One major driving force- try getting a grant to reproduce someone else's work.  Instant shredder.

It may be too late to worry; our world depends our out technical knowledge- and it's been compromised.


This is from an old post here; but is precisely illustrative of the current state of our scientists; and their supposed "oversight". This guy is staggeringly out to lunch.

Used to be only ninnys didn't think problems all the way through- but it seems to be a pathway now being taught to PhDs.

The next example, which pushed me over the edge, is from BBC Science.

This professor guy (and not a minor one, but "the director of the scientific aquaculture programme at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts") is spending huge amount of money working on training aquaculture fish to come back when called, in the ocean; by a specific sound.

Then, see, they could go find some of their own food, and wouldn't always be pooping in the same toilet, but would come back when you wanted to feed- or kill them.

First try didn't work. Predators ate them, as soon as they were allowed to escape from the cage. I'll be darned.

Besides which- gosh, if you've got your fish trained to come and be fed, and the signal is a sound... exactly how long do you think it will take the predators to learn that the sound means- time to come and get fed? Right here?

I think any signal, in any medium, you can use to train your fish will emphatically be intercepted by the predators, immediately.
At first, the fish began to forage outside of the aquadome, moving in and out at the prompt of the sound, just as the researchers had hoped.
"But then we start seeing these bluefish circling our cage. And these are notorious for being ravenous and ruthless hunters," he says.
"Very frustratingly, we went back day after day to find these fish still showing up at the cage, and we couldn't for the life of us call the black sea bass back.
Tagged black sea bass (Scott Lindell)
The tags helped the researchers to identify their bass
"They were scared to death - we went diving, and we could see them amongst the rocks, but nothing was going to make them run that gauntlet between the rocks and the cage when it would put their lives at risk."
And the fish had good reason to be scared.
When the team caught one of the bluefish and slit open its belly, they discovered 12 tiny tags - the fish that they had been attached to had already been digested.
But. Big, hopeful, news coverage on the BBC!! Hey, the funders will love it.
And his answer? Gonna build robotic sheep-dog sharks to keep the little predators away.

What a good idea.


Ok, so the hammer is not working on this machine screw. Maybe if I hit it from the side, with more money...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ebola 8.

Not having any fun today.  I'll keep this short, because there's plenty of "in depth!" coverage on the new Ebola patient in Dallas (not the dead one); and they're updating rapidly now.  First a nurse in Spain, following the rules, gets it; now a nurse in Dallas, following all the rules, gets it.

I would not bet the current head of the CDC will still have that job a month from now.  The noises I hear from his office do not make me think he's smart and in charge; more like he is not very bright, and is reading the Instruction Manual For Pandemics: 1. Be sure your ass is covered.  2. Prevent panic, lie all you want to achieve this.

"Clearly it must have been a protocol breach." - before any investigation, is not smart.  It would actually be better for Item 2 if you said, for the public; "Of course, we're looking into all possibilities, including that the virus may have changed.  That's unlikely; but we're watching."  But it would, of course, violate #1.

There were 2 things today that actually shocked me.  I'll pass them on:

1) In the NYT, well buried in the article, was this tidbit:

"Health officials have been monitoring 48 people in the Dallas area who may have come into direct or indirect contact with Mr. Duncan, including health care workers and Mr. Duncan’s relatives. But they said the person who tested positive was not among those under observation and had been “self-monitoring” to check for symptoms of Ebola."

Emphasis mine.  Current wording in the article is a little different now; but the statement is there.  So; the nurse infected is not even one of those thought to be at "higher risk".  I will be totally astonished if Duncan's girlfriend, and some of the others in that apartment, do not become symptomatic in the next 2 weeks (it may be that long).

And 2).  The Ebola mutation rate?  We hear it's "high"; but- I got to wondering about sample sizes, etc.

It's much, much MUCH worse than they're reporting.  The science gives the details; but the reporting does not.  I was guessing, before I dug out the science; that out of 4,000 dead, they might have sampled the DNA from, oh, maybe 4-500 people?  Since they report finding "more than 300" mutations that show this present virus is different from previous outbreaks?


They had blood samples from 78 people; all from Sierra Leone, in the first 24 days of the outbreak.

From 78 people; they sequenced DNA from 99 viruses.

In 99 viruses, they found- "more than 300" separate mutations.  How many?  Well; 395, actually, but only 340 that are really, really different.

395 mutations found in 78 people- at one location, months ago.  Yes, that's really bad; and our journalists are either blindingly incompetent- or... worse.

I wouldn't leave Dallas today- but I might start packing the vehicle, and being sure it's full of gas.  Think that's over reacting?  Just read all the above again.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hang on to the good stuff.

Peanuts Comic Strip on

In the middle of all this insanity.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ebola 7. Insanity in Texas.

In the previous post I stated that plagues make humans insane.

Not only insane- but broadly brain dead.  Evidently there is no one in the state of Texas with a functioning brain.

I'm guessing that sometime in the next 24 hours, it will dawn on someone- that to require the family of the Ebola patient to.... STAY IN THEIR APARTMENT FOR 21 DAYS-  is a death sentence, for all of them.

And insanely cruel.  Tell me; is there no other apartment in the city of Dallas where these "asymptomatic" people, humans we suspect; could go instead?  So that they do not have to stay in the apartment; where the sweaty sheets and vomit of the patient - either have not yet been cleaned up; or were cleaned only after hours and hours?

Insane.  Utterly inhumane.  And blindly panicked.

Scream, for those poor people- if you can find someone to scream at.