It's chikungunya and flu we ought to dreadby Hugh Pennington / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Are you at risk from Ebola? Not in the United Kingdom, unless you eat monkey meat smuggled from Africa. Nevertheless, the name fills us with dread. With mortality rates ranging from 50 per cent to 95 per cent, no specific treatment and no preventive measures better than wearing Marigolds and a pair of spectacles, this is not unreasonable. Smallpox engendered the same emotions of fear and panic, even though at worst it only killed 25 per cent and there was a vaccine that worked, was cheap to make and easy to deliver.
I comment on microbiological matters. The massive recent publicity about Ebola has been good for my business. It has also stimulated us to ask what other horrible things are out there. Might there even be things lurking closer to home? And could surprises be just around the corner?
The last question is easy to answer. Yes, there will be surprises. But by definition it isn’t possible to say anything more. All that we can do is be ready for them. Bacteria and viruses have no brains, but sometimes they seem to be more cunning than the microbiologists and epidemiologists whose job it is to understand their weaknesses in order to fight them. And without doubt, microbes have no difficulty in outwitting politicians.
Consider E.coli O104:H4. This is by far the nastiest E.coli for humans. It has emerged recently, a millennium bug that has only been found in the 21st century and never before. It is a hybrid. It has the genes from E.coli O157 that code for the toxins that have made this particular E.coli the scourge of vendors of rare burgers in the United States, and petting farm owners and bad butchers in the UK; it has genes from enteroaggregative E.coli, a common cause of diarrhoea in children in developing countries.
A 15,000kg batch of fenugreek seeds contaminated with O104 left Egypt by sea in November 2009. The sealed container was offloaded at Antwerp, went on to Rotterdam by barge and then by road to Germany. In…