Saturday Night Horrorshow Long Read: “Hell in the Hot Zone”

I’ve been collecting links on the Ebola outbreak, because I’m morbid like that. This story is scary long enough to deserve its own post. Jeffrey E. Stern, in Vanity Fair:

Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses known to medical science, with no specific cure and mortality rates of up to 90 percent. The Ebola epidemic now raging in West Africa is the worst one in history. It has decimated Meliandou and moved far beyond. But the mystery today is not how the epidemic began—it is why a concerted effort by an army of international experts was unable to stop it. Part of the answer is the chameleon-like character the virus displays in this part of the world. An even larger part lies in the international response itself. It was rapid and comprehensive—exactly what you would hope. But there was an unexpected reaction that undermined everything the experts sought to achieve—and at the same time fooled many of them into thinking they had succeeded in their aims. Eventually they understood the truth. By then it was too late…

When Ebola strikes, it kills quickly, but it can take up to three weeks to incubate, and usually around 10 days. The period is long enough that contact with a possible source may have been forgotten, and long enough for infected people to travel without symptoms. And even if you tested for Ebola—which nobody in Guinea had the capacity to do—you wouldn’t find it during the incubation period: Ebola can’t be detected in the blood until symptoms show. An epidemic can start slowly and go unnoticed for weeks. This has never been much of an issue before, because Ebola tends not to find its way into large population centers, or places where people are very mobile. This time would be different.

On January 24, more than a month after the first infection, Jean Claude Kpoghomou, a doctor in the town of Tekolo, called a superior to report on something strange happening in a village under his jurisdiction. Three patients had died in the span of two days, he said. All of them came from the same village, a place called Meliandou. The symptoms looked like cholera: diarrhea, vomiting, extreme dehydration. Cholera outbreaks were not uncommon in Guinea. An especially devastating outbreak had occurred just two years earlier, and Meliandou had even been one of the villages targeted for a public-health education campaign. A big pictographic billboard was installed at the entrance to the village, with explicit instructions for the mostly illiterate villagers about how to avoid contaminating the water supply…

Meanwhile, the virus had slipped out of the village. When the grandmother of the infant victim fell sick, she decided that the way the villagers were approaching the illness—summoning a shaman to brandish his fetishes and work his spells—was not satisfactory. The grandmother had a friend in Guéckédou who was a nurse, and when the grandmother’s symptoms began to worsen, she went to see what real medicine could do for her. The nurse tried to help, but he had no idea what he was dealing with. The grandmother went back to Meliandou, where she died.

In early February, the nurse himself developed a fever. Now the virus was in Guéckédou, a bustling trading hub where people converge from Liberia and Sierra Leone. When the nurse’s condition deteriorated, he sought help from a friend who was a doctor in Macenta, in the next prefecture over. The nurse stayed just one night in Macenta—sleeping in the doctor’s own house, sharing a room with the doctor’s own son—and died the next day, February 10, in the waiting room of the local hospital’s lab. The doctor in Macenta was shocked. He didn’t know what he had just witnessed, but it was unlike anything he had seen before, and he immediately sent an alert to the regional director of health in Nzérékoré. Then the doctor developed a fever. He set off for the capital, where he hoped someone might have answers. But along the road—a jolting, treacherous passage lined by burned-out cars and always a few freshly rolled tractor-trailers spilling timber—the doctor died. His body was sent to Kissidougou, a city of more than 100,000, where a funeral was held. Before long, Kissidougou was experiencing an outbreak of whatever it was that had killed the doctor… Read more

Saturday Evening Open Thread


So… what’s on the agenda in your neighborhood, physical or pixilated?

College Football Preview — Open Thread

What are you watching today? Who’s gonna win? What’s your upset of the week prediction?

We’re on the way to a woodsy canoe outpost, so I’ll miss the early games so we can paddle around in a bug-ridden drizzle and acquire a chigger infestation. But I’ll be home later to watch the Gators, who will almost certainly lose to Bama. Read more

Saturday Morning Open Thread: “Intensity Retreats”

Normally I don’t bother with David Brooks, because life is too short to waste on poisoned pablum. But Jessica Roy at NYMag had a brief post:

David Brooks made a stunning discovery in this week’s op-ed: Friends. People should have them. Wow, big if true.

After making the sociopath’s case for having friends, such as the way one stands to benefit politically and socially from friendships, Brooks says that if he had $500 million he would create a happy fun time summer camp for adults to make friends.

I have a better idea, David Brooks: Give me $500 million and I will happily be your friend (though I’ll probably still talk about you behind your back).

The amazing thing — and this, no doubt, is why the NYTimes gives him the big bucks & the premium op-ed space — is that Brooks’ piece is even worse than Roy described, starting with its oxymoronic title:

Somebody recently asked me what I would do if I had $500 million to give away. My first thought was that I’d become a moderate version of the Koch brothers. I’d pay for independent candidates to run against Democratic or Republican members of Congress who veered too far into their party’s fever swamps.

But then I realized that if I really had that money, I’d want to affect a smaller number of people in a more personal and profound way. The big, established charities are already fighting disease and poverty as best they can, so in search of new directions I thought, oddly, of friendship…

Shorter BoBo: “Current politics have convinced me that $500 million is not nearly enough money to force people to vote for the Thought Leaders I would prefer to see in charge. It might, however, be enough for me to finally buy some syncophants.”

… In the first place, friendship helps people make better judgments. So much of deep friendship is thinking through problems together: what job to take; whom to marry. Friendship allows you to see your own life but with a second sympathetic self….

How many times has this man been divorced?

Second, friends usually bring out better versions of each other. People feel unguarded and fluid with their close friends. If you’re hanging around with a friend, smarter and funnier thoughts tend to come burbling out…

Somebody needs to break it to him: Gail Collins only laughs at his “jokes” because she feels sorry for him. (Actually, I suspect those squirm-inducing ‘conversations’ are written into her contract, but it’s clear even from the published results that she feels sorry for him. Gail Collins is a nicer person than I am.) Read more

Late Night Open Thread

Here’s a blue heron trying to be inconspicuous behind a sea grape tree:


Not happening, pal.

We’ve got an exciting weekend planned. If the weather doesn’t suck, the mister and I plan to visit a rustic fish camp and maybe do a little canoeing tomorrow early. Then we’ll come home and watch Bama kick our poor Gators around.

On Sunday, the entire family is getting new glasses. I think I’m going to have to finally break down and get bifocals.

I’ve avoided that reckoning for the past couple of years by wearing my glasses on top of my head when focused on things within arm’s length. But that’s no longer working for me.

Tonight everyone else at my house is snoring away. I’m the only night owl. Reading intermittently and listening to a persistent rain. What are you doing?