Richard Preston is the author of the non-fiction book “The Hot Zone”, which discusses the origins of several deadly viral diseases in Africa. He is an expert on viruses such as Ebola. His book offered a vision of these viruses that was so terrifying that Stephen King once said the first chapter of the book was “one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life.” That’s high praise from the man who wrote “The Stand”.
Preston took to the Interwebs and launched a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) discussion about the current Ebola crisis in Africa. As usual, the questions from the denizens of Reddit ranged from insightful and probing to absurd. But Preston held on and helped folks learn a thing or two.
One of the top questions from the discussion was about how doctors and nurses protect themselves while helping virus-stricken areas.
“They haven’t been able to fully protect themselves, Preston replied. “Doctors and nurses are dying. They're wearing full protection biohazard suits, but the Ebola wards are just horrifying, 30 Ebola patients with one doctor and one nurse, both in space suits. Conditions are awful in those wards, we need more doctors and nurses - not even a space suit can totally protect you if the ward is really a mess."
Another reader asked about an experimental serum that is being tried. Preston is hopeful that it will work. He said, “The antibody serum ZMAPP seems to be amazingly effective but we don’t know because it’s only been tried on the two patients."
His comments about the future quality of life for people who manage to survive Ebola was encouraging.
“I interviewed Dr. Shem Musoke who nearly died of Marburg (close cousin of Ebola),” Preston explained. “And he told me it took him about a year to recover fully but now he was fine. It’s a crushing disease but if you survive you do recover.”
Finally, Preston assured everyone that there is no need to panic about the Ebola situation in Africa.
"This is a kind of war with a non-human enemy. It is a fairly clever and very aggressive enemy. However, if you are in a jam it is never a good idea to panic. That's how you lose. The doctors in Africa definitely are not panicking, they are just working 20 hours a day in the fight. And we sure don’t have to panic in the US, we’ve got a strong medical care system."
Image via Wikimedia Commons