Virus Vrydag

Alliteration because this is a post about viruses. And it is a Friday. And Vrydag is Friday in Afrikaans.
Also Virus is Virus in Afrikaans. So we’re all good.

My inbox was full of posts and articles about viruses today. Real viruses, not digital ones. I’m not sure what prompted this outbreak, but if you have even a passing interest in microbiology and biomedical science, they’re quite interesting.

First up, a two-parter: this TED-talk from CSIR laser scientist Patience Mthunzi.

Could we cure HIV with lasers?

and this response:
Fullscreen capture 2016-08-12 105612 AM.bmp

because, as UCT virus scientist Ed Rybicki says:

Sorry, and I realise that she’s a passionate and well-meaning woman who has a TED talk and everything, but this idea is right up there with using electrotherapy to treat HIV infections. In short, it might work at the single-cell level, but is hopelessly impractical to use on whole people.


Next up: Polio is back in Nigeria.

After more than two years without wild poliovirus in Nigeria, the Government reported today that 2 children have been paralyzed by the disease in the northern Borno state.

A huge push on a very successful worldwide vaccine programme against polio has yielded incredible results. It does/did appear that polio is/was heading the same way as smallpox.


But continuing religious opposition, together with political upheaval in northern Nigeria has meant that the campaign has been failing at local level. These two cases, which have resulted in two children being paralysed for life, are both a setback and a reminder that we’re not quite there yet and that any thoughts of eradication were decidedly, and sadly, premature.

Room for one more? Good. Because it’s really interesting.

It’s a long one, but if you want to try to take some positives away from the West Africa Ebola Outbreak which began 2 years ago this month (yes, I know), then it would be the lessons that we have learned about how to contain future outbreaks. Not just Ebola outbreaks, but any outbreaks. Especially those in the developing world.

These lessons will stand us in better stead when the next challenge arises, says the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Professor David Heymann:

“By using language that they could understand we were able to get communities to work very rapidly to stop transmission,” said Prof Heymann, who feels this was not the initial priority in West Africa. “We’re too biomedical in all our approaches, but we’ve learned that community engagement is the key as we’ve gone along.”

“If communities can be empowered with understanding about how to bury their own people safely and how to prevent themselves getting infected, outbreaks can be stopped. That’s how they’ve been stopped in the past and will be stopped in the future.”

Much of this isn’t rocket science. In fact, none of it it is rocket science. Rocket science isn’t going to help you prevent the spread of a killer virus in West Africa. Getting to the moon, perhaps. But telling scared villagers how they can avoid dying from a seemingly unstoppable disease process? No. This basically comes down to using the correct language (something we’ve talked about before on the blog) and going through the correct channels. In effect, just communicating effectively.

If that’s the rather simple foundation for a more successful response to the next outbreak – whatever that might be – then lives are going to be saved. And that’s obviously a very good thing.

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