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EDITOR’S NOTE

Al Venter sent his draft of this article to me in mid-November, 2019, and he followed it up with a short note just a couple weeks later.

“This is a major issue in Britain this morning – lead story [from a major UK newspaper]”

Monkeypox warning: Case of the rare virus confirmed in the UK – signs and symptoms. 

“Bottom line, as I was to see with my own tropical issues when I returned from the Central African Republic, is that the West is carefully monitoring some of the diseases that come from Africa and monkeypox is just one. The biggest of all is Ebola and if there’s a case in either the U.S. or UK, it could result in halting travelers from Africa.

“The start of a new contagion?”

 

Little did we know that just eight weeks later, the Novel coronavirus outbreak would claim its first victim in China, a source that wasn’t even on Venter’s, or anyone else’s, radar at the time.

In the intervening weeks, there has been little to no mention of monkeypox, as COVID-19, the official term for this version of the coronavirus, has dominated virtually every news broadcast and post.

As usual, Al was correct in his concern about our susceptibility to new treatment-resistant threats from the microscopic community. While the debate rages over the best courses of prevention and treatment, what individuals should do to protect themselves and what the duration and aftermath of Earth’s latest pandemic will be, it is clear that the situation will get worse before it gets better.

In late February, ASG posted a list of resources that monitor and post updated information about this situation. The details on some of these sites are updated every day so you can be sure you’re seeing the latest developments and pandemic statistics and advice. Visit this link often to stay current on the critical information available through the links we’ve gathered: asgmag.com/features/2019-2020-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-outbreak-links

What You Need to Know

There have been disturbing health reports concerning infectious diseases emerging from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) for many years.

In a British report headlined “Outbreak could kill 80 million in just 36 hours – WHO alert,” the Geneva-based, United Nations body declared that an unknown and surprise disease outbreak could spread across the world in as little as 36 hours, killing upwards of 80 million people “and we are not prepared,” new research has shockingly claimed.

Designated the name “Disease X” by WHO, it was stated that the disease is envisaged to have the potential to creep up on humanity and wipe out large swathes of the population in a similar fashion to the Spanish Flu almost exactly a century ago. That pandemic killed 5 percent of the global population, and Russian Flu, which followed, wiped out a million Europeans.

A New Pandemic is Very Possible

The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB) has now warned that the possibility of a major disease taking hold has become a potential reality and indeed, researchers involved in the study have given past examples of how the disease could creep up on humanity, such as the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016.

What is notable here is that Washington is perfectly aware of this threat. At a casual meeting with some of my Special Forces friends who remain linked to the Pentagon in July 2019, I was told that indeed, American defense planners were aware of the dangers and had already set up a special division to cope with just such an emergency.

“BY ALL ACCOUNTS, SOME OF THESE PLAGUES ARE CREEPING CLOSER TO SOME FIRSTWORLD COUNTRIES, THE UNITED STATES INCLUDED.”

They would not elaborate in detail, except to say that the matter was in hand, in itself a disturbing revelation.

If that were not enough, you only have to look at what went on in this medical field in the recent past and we will start with the United States, where measles has made an unexpected appearance in many states after being virtually eliminated as a threat.

As the CDC says, “Measles infections are everywhere.” Still worse, outbreaks have been global with measles causing an estimated 110,000 deaths worldwide in 2017. Possible complications with this disease, which customarily affects children, include encephalitis (swelling of the brain), pneumonia, severe diarrhea and dehydration and/or permanent disability.

Red Cross burial team takes samples from a woman believed to have died of a
hemorrhagic infection in Africa. WHO photo

In developing countries, approximately one of every 100 children with measles dies of the disease or its complications. This is but a fraction of what we’re seeing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is not generally known by communities not generally affected by measles and revealed by ongoing medical studies is that it has a devastating impact on the body’s immune system that could make it harder to fight infections for years. The virus can cause immune amnesia, meaning the body forgets how to fight bugs it once knew how to beat. Hopefully, this will not be a legacy of the COVID-19 virus as well.

It also resets the immune system to a baby-like state, compromising its ability to devise ways of tackling new infections. Experts maintain that the findings demonstrate the importance of vaccination.

By thoroughly washing hands, keeping surfaces clean and by covering the mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing, we reduce the chances of turning localized diseases into pandemics.

Significantly, Germany in late 2019 came out strongly for inoculation and passed a law: Parents who did not vaccinate their children against measles in that country would face multi-thousand Euro fines, according to a New York Times report.

Other infectious illnesses thought to have fallen under the radar in recent years include multiple outbreaks of bubonic plague, known to previous generations as Black Death and infamous for killing millions in the Middle Ages. It surfaced again in Madagascar in August 2017. Secondary infections obviously caused by travelers, followed elsewhere in the Indian Ocean shortly afterward.

In some regions, measles has made an unexpected return after having been virtually eliminated as a threat.

Then followed outbreaks of diphtheria in Bangladesh, cholera in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Zambia and Algeria as well as the Yemen Republic.

More recently, there have been numerous cases of yellow fever, Lassa fever, acute meningitis in parts of Nigeria, followed by cases of yellow fever in Brazil and France. By all accounts, some of these plagues are creeping closer to some First World countries, the United States included.

With Brazil, the disease was transmitted by a West African traveler who touched down in Rio. In France it was traced to a passenger who came into the country from French Guyana.

Measles, a highly contagious infection caused by the measles virus, is an airborne disease that spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of those infected.

In between, Africa has been consistently battling Ebola, an even deadlier hemorrhagic fever than either Marburg or Lassa, and WHO reports that it continues to spread.  As with other infections, it needs only one infected person to unknowingly board a plane in Africa to spread the disease in whatever city that aircraft is destined for, be it in Europe or America.

More about Ebola and this correspondent’s personal experience of the threat during his recent visit to Central Africa in September, 2019 later. (See Ebola sidebar at the end of this article)

Threats Are Omnipresent

The truth is you do not need to head out to remote and exotic places to succumb to a variety of deadly infections that have been making the news. It can happen in the kitchen from food bought in your local supermarket, thought to be the case with COVID-19.

A report recently out in Britain states that a plate of fish and chips is increasingly likely to expose people to untreatable bacteria because of the spread of “superbugs” at sea. As a result of studies of dolphins, it was discovered that some of these beautiful creatures are infected by a surge of antibiotic-resistant bugs that are dangerous to humans.

Ebola aid workers in protective gear remove a body from a building in Africa while neighbors watch.

Additionally, investigators at Florida Atlantic University whose specialist scientists have captured, swabbed and then released bottlenose dolphins, have found that in the six years between 2009 and 2015 resistance in various strains of e-coli to common antibiotics has more than doubled, while resistance to drugs of a pathogen called Vibrio alginolyticus (known to cause serious seafood poisonings) had also shown a significant rise.

To some, it is enough of a threat to cause them to become vegans…

Almost all of us are aware of the consequences of infection by endemic diseases such as chronic hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections that affect millions and whose consequences can be serious.

To that tally we should now add mumps and rubella and, of course, measles, especially among children, while additional concerns include health-care-associated and food-borne infections, which have been targets of broad prevention efforts.

Superbugs On The Rise

Far more serious, following studies conducted in Britain and last made public a year ago, is that there have been almost two dozen new superbugs discovered, including germs that attack the blood, kidneys and bowels. More salient, the majority are untreatable by present-day antibiotics.

Often, multiple levels of protective equipment are used when working with and treating those suspected or known to have highly infectious diseases.

London’s Daily Mail disclosed in a report published September 1, 2019, that  germs that attack the blood, kidneys and bowels had evolved ways to breach the last line of antibiotic defenses, threatening a pandemic series of worldwide untreatable infections.

The report also disclosed that superbugs found in 1,300 samples taken from patients over the past few years, meant that infections could not be treated by antibiotics of last resort, such as carbapenems and colistin.

The report continued: “The bacteria, which include new forms of the MRSA, gonorrhoea and enterococcus bugs cause urinary tract infections, sexually-transmitted diseases, kidney problems and bowel disease. In each case, doctors were able to use experimental unlicensed drugs, a combination of old medicines or high doses to save lives.”

But infectious diseases expert Dr. Susan Hopkins, of Imperial College London, warned: “One doomsday scenario is that it gets so bad that we cannot treat patients.”

She added that in some southern European countries, such as Italy and Greece, where antibiotic resistance is a bigger problem, doctors can no longer carry out bone marrow transplants in cases where patients get untreatable infections.

New Diseases Discovered

Also revealed, was the frightening reality of current health threats in many Western nations, including the United States and Britain, that 12 new diseases were detected for the first time in the past decade. These include pandemic swine flu, Middle East respiratory syndrome, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever as well as monkeypox.

Red Cross workers in the Congo brief volunteer villagers about the threat of Ebola in their area. Source: WHO.

More recently we have Eastern equine encephalitis, confirmed in several states as the virus continues to spread across North America. The rare virus can cause inflammation in the brain and is potentially deadly, killing about a third of patients who develop it. Many of those infected who survive have mild to severe brain damage, according to the CDC.

Many parts of Central Africa are embroiled in civil wars that prevent aide personnel from reaching the victims and providing prevention and treatment assistance.

Some of these infections have dramatic outcomes. In a random case of Eastern equine encephalitis, Gregg McChesney, 64, of Michigan died nine days after contracting the disease in August, 2019. His brother said that within a matter of nine days he went from perfectly healthy to brain dead from the rare mosquito-borne virus: “All of a sudden he had a seizure and next thing you know, he’s in the ER and he just never came out of it.”

Pandemics Aren’t New

The truth is that global pandemics are nothing new. The hundredth anniversary of the most severe medical disaster in recorded history has passed us by, yet few people are aware that a century ago, 50 million people died in the 1918 influenza pandemic, including almost three-quarters of a million in the United States alone.

“THE GLOBAL PREPAREDNESS MONITORING BOARD (GPMB) HAS NOW WARNED THAT THE POSSIBILITY OF A MAJOR DISEASE TAKING HOLD HAS BECOME A POTENTIAL REALITY…”

To place matters in proper perspective, World War I, which ranged from 1914 to 1918, claimed an estimated 16 million lives. The influenza epidemic that swept the world at the end of it killed three times that figure. In fact, a fifth of the world’s total population was attacked by this deadly virus. Worse, global health specialists maintain it could happen again.

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, Massachusetts was drained of physicians and nurses. Many local women volunteered to help fill the void that medical professionals left behind.

Masked doctors and nurses treat flu patients lying on cots and in outdoor tents at a hospital camp during the influenza epidemic of 1918. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Origins of that distant influenza epidemic remained obscure until somebody discovered that it was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian (bird) origin, the same avian gene that killed many people in China recently and which is responsible for many similar breakouts throughout the planet.

Is Modern Science Keeping Up?

The only difference is that today’s medical advances are able to cope with the threat, although early successes battling COVID-19 are based on prevention, not treatments.

But with more diseases such as Ebola, Lassa fever, the dreaded Zika virus disease (transmitted primarily by mosquitoes that bite around the clock, not only at night), plague, cholera and the rest are causing serious concern in the civilized world.

A mosquito in action on human flesh. Mosquitoes are the most dangerous animal to humans, causing approximately 1,000,000 deaths each year, according to the WHO.

International health bodies in just about every country on the planet, with solid support from the CDC and WHO, are attempting to deal with it all, but there are good reasons to fret.

Both major international health bodies also maintain that there is a constant need to keep pace with the spread of some of the hemorrhagic diseases that have emerged recently in Africa.

Spraying pesticides kills mosquitoes that carry a wide range of diseases that can prove deadly to humans.

Of major concern is the unexplained cluster of deaths in West Africa’s Liberia in 2017 when several dozen people contracted a disease that resembled Ebola, and many died. It is notable that almost all those affected attended the funeral of a single person.

That a disease was responsible, there is no question. What killed those people remains to be determined, especially since there are many Liberians who have family in the U.S. and travel regularly to North America.

By the end of 2019 there were already thousands of reported symptomatic Zika virus disease cases in the United States. Birth defects can result in babies born to mothers who were infected during pregnancy.

During the Ebola outbreak that ravaged Sierra Leone, statistics were vague because of the lack of proper communications. The CDC initially stated that about 12,000 people died but the total has since been revised to roughly double that.

Something similar has taken place in the Eastern Congo in the past two or three years and again, accurate numbers are unreliable because most effects were felt deep in jungle country and, with a civil war ongoing, nobody is willing to investigate the extent of its spread.

Health workers must be careful when assisting people who have or may have a deadly infectious disease.

What we do know is that as a result, Ebola cases have been identified in some neighboring regions, including the area around Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

More worrying are reports of Ebola infections in Dar es Salaam, capital city of Tanzania. During my visit to the Central African Republic in September, 2019, I spent time with a senior staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross who had herself been on an inspection tour in the area. It was she who told me about the Tanzanian Ebola infection.

The body of a disease victim is removed, along with her belongings so all can be incinerated.

I asked her what the Red Cross was doing about them and she said, “Nothing!” She explained that while their own sources had verified earlier reports about Ebola cases (and some deaths from the disease) in Dar es Salaam, the government there flatly denied the reports. It also threatened to deport anybody who persisted with what it termed “such nonsense.”

“THE TRUTH IS YOU DO NOT NEED TO HEAD OUT TO REMOTE AND EXOTIC PLACES TO SUCCUMB TO A VARIETY OF DEADLY INFECTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN MAKING THE NEWS. IT CAN HAPPEN IN THE KITCHEN FROM FOOD BOUGHT IN YOUR LOCAL SUPERMARKET.”

The woman concerned said she could understand the reaction, because if word got out that there had been an outbreak of Ebola in Tanzania, the country’s tourist industry would collapse. In fact, it could affect all of East Africa, including Kenya.

Teaching good hygiene habits to children helps keep their still-forming immune system from having to battle some of the world’s toughest infectious diseases.

Curiously, since then there have been more reports of Ebola infections, this time in October, 2019 from Malawi. However, sadly, Malawi’s government has denied all reports, and the Red Cross is powerless to take effective action.

Indeed, the specter of a global health emergency looms large.

 

EBOLA

What then, one needs to ask, is Ebola?  

The virus was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, there have been Ebola infections in several African countries.

That said, scientists do not yet know from where the virus comes: in other words, its origins remain obscure.

However, based on the nature of similar infections elsewhere, they believe the disease is animal-borne, with bats or non-human primates (chimpanzees, apes, monkeys, etc.) being the most likely source. Infected animals carrying the virus can transmit it to other creatures in the wild and, of course, humans.

The virus spreads to people initially through direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of animals.

Ebola then spreads to other people through direct contact with body fluids of a person who is ill or has died after being infected. This can occur when a person touches these infected body fluids (or objects that are contaminated by them), and the virus gets in through broken skin or mucous membranes in the eyes, nose or mouth.

People can get the virus through sexual contact with someone who is infected and it can persist in certain body fluids, such as semen, after recovery from the illness.

It is worth mentioning that, while covering the war in the Central African Republic, I was badly hit by a tropical ailment that floored me for several days. Because the infection, mainly fever (but not malaria, because I had been taking a preventative for that) persisted, I decided to head home. The first question I was asked on arriving back in Britain and obviously still ill, was where I had been. I told them, which was when things went into overdrive.

These days, anybody arriving in Europe from Africa with a fever is immediately checked out, in my case almost at code red level. I was subjected to days of tests until the authorities were satisfied that I was not infected with something that might resemble Ebola, Lassa, Marburg or any of the other serious tropical diseases. Nobody was taking any chances.

The bottom line here, with Ebola and other infectious diseases that can be spread by human activity, is that the international community has a problem on its hands with which it seems to have learned to cope, for now, anyway.

While disease has always been part of the human experience, a combination of global trends, including insecurity and extreme weather, has heightened the risk.

More important still, diseases like Ebola and other hemorrhagic diseases thrive in disorder and there is no question that outbreaks have been on the rise for the past several decades. Health officials who treated me in Africa intimated that while Bangui (capital of the Central African Republic) was in the “Ebola vortex,” it had not yet appeared on their screen, which was why every passenger arriving at the city’s M’Poko International Airport had his or her temperature taken by a device inserted in the ear. It was all very professionally done, a fresh swab for every passenger.

Also, had I not been inoculated against yellow fever, I would have been sent back from where I came, on the same aircraft on which I had arrived.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.