Harmful Contacts with our Living Earth and Redounding Shots Across the Bow

About two-thirds of all infectious diseases in humans have their origins in animals. Scientists say the ability of a virus to mutate and adapt from animals to the human system is very rare, but the expansion of the human footprint is making that rare event much more likely. — Jeff Berardelli

Contact — the state or condition of physical touching.

Harmful or unwanted contact — an assault.

Redound (archaic) — to come back upon; rebound on.

*****

How do you get sick from a virus? In the most simple sense, the virus touches your skin, your eye, the inside of your mouth, your blood or some other part of your body. It makes contact. Then it gets inside to do its damage. Often, this is through some action that you take. Some voluntary, some involuntary. Breathing, moving, picking up objects, putting contaminated clothes or blankets on or venturing into environments where other carriers of the virus can touch you. Or even, in a broader sense, disturbing the virus carriers and changing their environment is such a way that makes it easier for them to literally come to your home community to roost.

Contact.

In the last chapter we briefly explored how the world houses many, many potential, new, and re-emerging illnesses. Kept away from humans in mostly safe or remote places. We also briefly looked at how those illnesses are expanding. In this chapter, we will take a deeper dive into the second part. To look at how some harmful elements and activities within of our civilization have wrecked some of those safe places, how they’ve gotten us into what amounts to a brutal embrace with the places and beings in living nature that are reservoirs to those illnesses. How in this epic and global struggle, often bad actions and behaviors have shaken some illnesses loose. How it’s all gotten many of us sick.

That’s our present and recent history. One of harmful contact. Of touching and grasping for things best left undisturbed. And how it’s getting worse. How the general disturbance is rippling outward and bounding back.

We’re living in a time of an explosion of new illness or the re-emergence of old illnesses previously thought contained onto the global scene. How this has happened first became a major part of the discussion among health and epidemic experts since around the 1980s. For at the time, we experienced one of our initial major warnings that diseases may be dedounding onto expanding global civilization. And this first warning came from a terrifying new illness. For HIV humbled a global health corps that until that point had seen a long string of victories arising from the advances in medical science during the 19th and 20th Centuries.

HIV — Major Warning Shot to the Global Health System

HIV heralded an ominous new era. One where victory against infectious illness was less certain or at least came much slower and at a much higher price than earlier medical science victories might have given us hope for. One in which disrupted, damaged, or harmfully contacted life (and its supports) appears to return a toll on humankind as various enormous and harmful activities spread — burning, deforesting, killing and eating, and polluting their way across the globe.

virus3d rendering of a virus

3D rendering of HIV. Image source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Since its first outbreak as a pandemic during the early 1980s, HIV has infected over 75 million people of which around 32 million have died as a result of an illness that jumped to human beings from primates. Many deaths occurred early in the pandemic outbreak as first treatments were mostly ineffective. But even today HIV kills between 500,000 and 1,100,000 people each year (770,000 during 2018).

HIV originated in the broader African rainforests. There its progenitor reservoir existed as semian immuno deficiency virus (SIV) in the great apes and monkeys of the jungle for more than 10,000 years. All without transferring to humans until very recently. Our best present understanding is that the ultimate zoonosis occurred due to the bush meat trade in Africa which produced multiple contacts between SIV in apes and the blood of humans.

Hunting, Rubber and Bush Meat

The story of the bush meat trade is one that should be eerily familiar to those researching the climate crisis. Because it is also a story of forced displacement of human populations which then results in a harmful interaction with the natural world and subsequent damaging upshots. In the period from around the 1880s to the 1920s, sub-saharan Africans were forced from their native rural homes in droves as waves of Europeans descended on the jungles of Africa.

The Europeans wanted elephant tusks from the hunting trade to be sent home to Europe. They wanted rubber vine sap for industrial uses. They wanted to commoditize the jungle for these and other products. But often the Europeans didn’t have the manpower or local knowledge to conduct effective hunting expeditions into the jungle without the help of native populations. And they needed a local labor force for the rubber vine trade. Tribal Africans were pressed into service for the expeditions and the industrial exploitation of jungle plant products, often at the point of a gun.

This was a kind of mass invasion of the jungle in which abused and often under-nourished natives needed a new food source to survive. Rural subsistence agriculture wasn’t a possibility for a constantly mobile porter in an elephant hunting expedition. Nor was it for rubber plant harvesters or those newly impressed into factory work in burgeoning cities.

Bushmeat

“At this bushmeat market in Pointe Noire, a butchered chimpanzee is shown in the middle of the photograph, along with other smoked and fresh meat. It has been theorized that SIV moved from chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys to humans—evolving into pathogenic HIV-1 and HIV-2 respectively–through exposure to primate blood, most likely as a result of the bushmeat trade. The HIV-1 group M epidemic likely began in the region of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Although wild chimpanzees are not found in the immediate vicinity of Kinshasa, the city is situated on the Congo River, which allowed for the easy transport of SIV-infected bushmeat and of infected humans from rural to urban areas.” Image and caption source: Physicians Research Network and the Goldray Consulting Group.

So a kind of shadow trade in bush meat arose. Porters on hunting expeditions would opportunistically kill and butcher the jungle animals they came into contact with to supplement their diets. It was an ironic and ominous outgrowth of the abuse handed down to the native Africans by the Europeans. It was almost as if they’d been corrupted by the hunting and killing they were forced to take part in such that it became a new means of survival for them.

The Monster that Lives in the Jungle and the Monster that Lives in Us

Various strains of SIV lived in the blood of apes and monkeys in Cameroon and Sierra Leone. Porters and laborers driven into the jungle killed and ate their hominid relatives to survive the European expansion into Africa and its subsequent exploitation. Hunted chimps and monkeys fought back. They bit. They flung feces. Tired porters and laborers hunting chimps after endless hours of work made mistakes. They missed when cutting chimp meat off of bones. They under-cooked bloody meat. They cut themselves with bloody knives containing the blood of their hominid fellows. The SIV living in the blood of the monkeys and apes its way into the blood of the porters and laborers. It happened many, many times.

At first, SIV was a mild virus in humans. It didn’t live well in the new host. But viruses are weird. Like life, they mutate. They change. They adapt to new environments. If there is one prime directive a virus has in its intrinsic design it is to self-replicate. At some point in all the butchering and eating and messy cutting or in the conflicts between the people hunting the apes and monkeys for food and the fighting creatures struggling for very existence, there was an SIV transmission into humans that caught fire. Changing from the mild SIV to the raging and lethal human immuno-deficiency virus that we know today.

It had to have happened multiple times. We know this, in part, because there are not one but two progenitor strains of HIV — HIV 1 which links back to apes and chimps in the Cameroon region and HIV 2 which links back to Sooty Mangabays in the Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast region. A grim bit of evidence pointing to how widespread the harmful contact was that resulted in the virus’s leap into humans. The point in time at which the consistent leap was made is thought to have occurred in the pre-World War 2 period — possibly as early as 1908.

Once the leap happened, the machine of exploitation in Africa that the colonialists had set up then served to help spin the virus out into the broader human population. Industrial centers and related communities had sprung up around the animal products and jungle harvesting trades. And in those centers prostitution of various kinds was rampant. Already established human illness such as syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea became widespread in Africa. These illnesses assisted the spread of HIV into hundreds of people by the mid 20th Century. This created a consistent viral HIV reservoir in humans from which the major pandemic later emerged.

Ebola — Novel Jungle Hemorrhagic Fever

If HIV was the first known serious illness to arise through harmful human interactions with ancient tropical and subtropical disease reservoirs, it became sadly apparent early on that it would not be the last. More human beings were coming into contact with the old animal disease reservoirs moving from previously sequestered habitats than before.

Ebola cdc

An electron microscope image of Ebola virus. Image source: CDC.

Cities were extending into the jungles, animals carrying illnesses foreign to humans were moving into those cities. Deforestation and slash and burn agriculture was displacing them, driving them. And in most new places that the animals moved there were human beings as well. A new harmful interaction, the climate crisis driven by fossil fuel burning, was also beginning to heat up the world. This served as a new pathway for expansion — increasing the habitable range for creatures used to hot weather and typically averse to cooler climes. This greatly increased and continues to increase the spatial range of tropical and semi-tropical illnesses capable of infecting people.

Of the jungle fevers that arise from the hot regions of the world, that are carried by animals that live in this heat, the viral hemorrhaigc fevers are perhaps some of the most terrifying. Like HIV, they are seriously lethal — tricking the body’s immune response in a way that enables them to multiply out of control. Directly attacking the body’s linings, they thus cause such great cell death that they effectively blow holes in tissue. This breaks down the body’s integrity causing loss of fluid and ultimately bloody hemorrhage.

From Viral Brush-fire to Conflagration

The first instances of Ebola occurred in 1976— in Sudan and then in Zaire. These initial infection outbreaks were highly lethal and terrifying to the local populations effected. Of the 284 people suffering from the Sudan strain of the virus, 151 died. In Zaire, 280 out of the 318 infected souls (88 percent) perished. For a relatively short-lasting infection, Ebola was amazingly lethal. Though later, less deadly strains emerged, many of the outbreaks to follow would continue to kill a surprising number of those afflicted. Presently, the World Health Organization estimates the lethality rate for Ebola, overall, at 50 percent. Sudan and Zaire both hosted different strains (SUDV and EBOV) of the same virus — Ebola — which was named after the river region from which it emerged.

It is still not fully known how the deadly Ebola virus first made its leap into humans from animals. But it is well known that tropical fruit bats, porcupines, and primates — yes our poor hominid relatives again — can carry the virus. As with HIV, the harmful bush meat trade is one of the key suspects. Although with Ebola, there are many other possible modes of zoonosis from animals to humans.

The virus is more transmissible than HIV, though less so than many other illnesses, such that direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people or animals, and with surfaces and materials (like bedding and clothing) contaminated with these fluids can result in sickness. It is thought that eating fruits partially eaten by fruit bats, food contaminated by bat or other infected animal feces, or consuming bush meat are all means of animal to human transfer of the illness.

Ebola Jungle Ecology CDC

Initially, the bush meat trade was a prime suspect for transmission of Ebola to human beings. Presently, it’s understood that other contacts with infected animals or their bodily fluids may transmit the virus. Also, at first, Ebola primarily impacted areas bordering the jungle. But in recent outbreaks, major population centers have been impacted. Image source: Ebola Virus Ecology — CDC.

Notably corpses of both humans and animals who were killed by the illness remain infectious for some time — requiring special burial. The disease typically spreads from human to human through direct contact with the blood, semen, saliva, vomit or other body fluid of infected persons. Surfaces contaminated by these fluids are also a means of infection. The virus is thankfully fragile in air, but splashing with droplets can transfer illness. And the virus is known to live in droplets on surfaces for up to 3 days.

After Ebola first burst onto the scene in 1976, there was a long hiatus of epidemic outbreaks in humans. Some thought, hopefully, that the disease had faded back into its tropical environs. But in 1995, nearly two decades after its first emergence, the virus broke out among humans in Zaire again — this time infecting 315 and killing 254. Subsequent outbreaks occurred every five years or so leaping to Uganda in 2000 (425 cases, 224 deaths), the DRC in 2003 (143 cases, 128 deaths), again in DRC in 2007 of a less lethal strain (149 cases, 37 deaths) and in 2012 in both Uganda and DRC yet again in three separate outbreaks (Uganda — 31 cases, 21 deaths; DRC — 57 cases, 29 deaths).

Thus far, outbreaks of the novel illness had been relatively small if intense viral brushfires. And, though lethal, the virus was thought be inhibited in transmission. A major outbreak spanning from 2013 through 2016 would belie that impression. Looking back, the illness had mostly been confined to small settlements bordering jungle regions in the 1976 to 2012 timeframe. But in 2013 and 2014 the virus, possibly through the enlarging span of its animal reservoirs, penetrated into more densely populated urban and city environments. From these more packed regions the virus would explode to rage out of control for years — consuming many thousands of human lives.

The West African outbreak which would hitherto dwarf all previous episodes of Ebola began in late 2013. Then, a one year old child perished from Ebola infection from an unknown source. Afterward, the disease rapidly spread through her community in Guinea, out into the local region and then on through the nearby countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone. What precipitated was a global health emergency that reached catastrophic proportions by summer of 2014 with the virus overwhelming the medical capacity of impacted countries. At this point the illness threatened to go global — with a handful of cases leaping to neighboring countries in Africa and even transferring overseas. But intense contact tracing and strict isolation both inside and outside the virus hot zone was largely responsible for preventing further spread.

By the end of the outbreak in 2016, an estimated 28,646 infections had occurred of which 11,323 were reported to have died. Ebola had risen from the ranks of a fringe if rather scary illness cropping up on the outer edges of society to an illness striking directly at the bones of global civilization. It had shown its ominous potential.

Subsequent outbreaks in 2017 and 2018 in DRC and Equateur Province mirrored previous less widespread infections. But a new outbreak that began in 2018 in the Kivu region of DRC and extends to today is considered a global health emergency by WHO. This particular outbreak as of 29 March, 2020 is reported to have infected 3453 people of which 2273 have died.

Warning Shots Across the Bow

Both Ebola and HIV served as early warning shots across the bow of global civilization. Visible signals that the risk of catastrophic emergence of new infectious illness was on the rise. That our harmful contacts with the natural world were the primary source of this rising risk. And that many, many more human souls may be at stake. These two novel illnesses were not the only major emergences to occur in this time. In fact, a plethora of new and re-emergent sicknesses have come onto the global scene over the past four decades. But they both represented the ominous character of the larger risk human beings now faced. They also foreshadowed the follow-on emergence of SARS into a major global pandemic — which we’ll be talking about in the next chapter.N

(Up Next — The Emergence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)

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13 Comments

  1. Robert in New Orleans

     /  April 5, 2020

    I am of the opinion that the main problem here is that a majority of the population (including a lot of people who should know better) believe that we are somehow above and/or apart from the natural world and thus we are immune from it’s more unpleasant aspects. :-/

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
  2. Robert in New Orleans

     /  April 6, 2020

    Hopefully a vaccine for the Covid 19 virus can be discovered and massed produced (sooner rather than later) to stop this menace in its tracks. One of my concerns however, is will the anti-vaxers refuse to get immunized and then will the government be forced to compel mandatory vaccinations for everyone?

    If you think that this is a non issue, I would suggest that we live in a strange time where intelligence and rational thinking are in a very short supply for certain parts of the population.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • I agree, for the most part. Although I generally thing that this breed of harmful world-view over-laps with generally not taking responsibility or recognizing a need to change. The roots of climate change denial, failure to helpfully respond to emerging infectious diseases in a positive way, and failure to respond well to risk/crisis in general I think rest in the same location of the human psyche. Those of us who draw from those dark waters almost universally multiply harm out to the rest of us and to nature itself.

      (This reply to your first post. Somehow it ended up here.)

      Like

      Reply
    • RE – anti-vaxxers — sharing your concern here. We already have the natural remedy subset of that crowd starting to make noises about fake cures. Not to say that staying generally healthy and eating well can’t help. But it’s not a vaccine — which would be a serious weapon in our arsenal against COVID-19. And any social reaction against it would be generally harmful, giving the disease grounds to keep a foothold in human populations.

      Like

      Reply
  3. wharf rat

     /  April 6, 2020

    Thanks for coming back. Stay healthy.

    I’m a retired respiratory therapist, wishing I was in the fight, but I’m 75, so, unless I eventually test positive for antibodies, I’m just watching.. I started my career during the London flu, and retired just before H1N1. This is the first time I’ve said, “This scares the shit out of me.”

    I got hired for my first job cuz flu exploded in the Bay Area, and hospitals were short-handed. School was in a portable classroom on the hospital grounds. When we got back from Xmas vacation, my teacher asked if I wanted a job, and took me up to the Respiratory Therapy dept. I had exactly zero clinical experience, and my other instructor taught me how to give a treatment that afternoon. I was the first green new deal. I was about the only therapist not putting in OT. IIRC, one guy worked like 30 straight days. We had to rent a couple of ventilators for several months. It was the worst outbreak of my career.

    SACRAMENTO (UPI) – State health officials say this year’s epidemic of London flu is nearly over, leaving in its wake 1.083 deaths in California s major cities alone. Dr. James Chin, head of the Department of Public Health’s infectious disease unit, said the death toll was 81 less than the number who died during the Hong Kong flu outbreak in 1968-69. Chin declared the 1972-73 influenza season is just about ended, but predicted another, less severe, outbreak of London flu this winter. He said a vaccine against the virus will be available by then and advised elderly persons and the chronically ill to obtain flu shots early next fall. The number of deaths resulting from flu and resulting pneumonia dropped from a peak of 162 in the first week of February to 54 during the first week of March, Chin said. “Northern California was struck the hardest, particularly in the Bay Area. Southern California was hit hard too, but the number of deaths from flu and pneumonia in excess of the norm did not occur as rapidly,” Chin said.
    https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DS19730316.2.15&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1

    This is the hospital.California is leasing it for Covid.
    https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/emergency-coronavirus-funding-keeps-embattled-seton-hospital-open/

    Be well, people.

    Mike

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  4. wharf rat

     /  April 6, 2020

    This dawg won’t hunt.Trump will prolly shoot it tomorrow.

    HHS watchdog: Hospitals need more help to fight COVID-19
    April 06, 2020 12:27 PM UPDATED 2 HOURS AGO

    Health systems are struggling with testing and caring for COVID-19 patients and keeping their staff safe, according to a new report from HHS’ Office of Inspector General.

    In the first nationwide assessment of how hospitals are coping with the pandemic, the agency found that hospitals are grappling with serious COVID-19 testing supply shortages and long wait times for test results. They’re also dealing with shortages of personal protective equipment, ventilators, medical gas, toilet paper, linens, food and other essential supplies.

    “Hospitals reported that changing and sometimes inconsistent guidance from federal, state and local authorities posed challenges and confused hospitals and the public,” HHS’ OIG said in its report.

    On top of that, the pandemic is overwhelming bed capacity and straining hospital budgets.

    “When patient stays were extended while awaiting test results, this strained bed availability, personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and staffing,” the agency wrote.

    Hospitals told HHS’ OIG that they’re increasingly “turning to new, sometimes un-vetted, and non-traditional sources of supplies and medical equipment” to get the equipment and supplies they need to deliver care, including PPE.

    They’re also training additional staff to use equipment like ventilators and triaging patients with less severe symptoms to makeshift facilities in empty college dorms, fairgrounds and other locations. Hospitals are also helping their staff access childcare and laundry services, among other things.

    HHS’ OIG found that health systems need more help with tests, supplies and equipment; workforce flexibility; bed capacity; financial assistance; and centralized communication and information, including more and better data about the virus.

    The agency based its findings on interviews with hospital administrators that took place March 23-27. The administrators represented 323 hospitals in 46 states.

    Both Congress and the Trump administration have acted to address each of the issues outlined in the report. And while additional regulatory flexibilities for states and providers have helped, important issues like funding, staffing and supply shortages are still widespread, and federal aid isn’t coming fast enough.

    https://www.modernhealthcare.com/government/hhs-watchdog-hospitals-need-more-help-fight-covid-19

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. Robert in New Orleans

     /  April 7, 2020

    The Hammer and the Dance
    By Tomas Pueyo

    Summary of the article: Strong coronavirus measures today should only last a few weeks, there shouldn’t be a big peak of infections afterwards, and it can all be done for a reasonable cost to society, saving millions of lives along the way. If we don’t take these measures, tens of millions will be infected, many will die, along with anybody else that requires intensive care, because the healthcare system will have collapsed.

    Go to google and type in the name of the article,

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • Read this one a few days ago. A good assessment. However, I think unless there’s adequate testing, contact tracing, and other population protective measures in place, then the risk that impacts continue for some time is relatively substantial.

      Like

      Reply

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