Richard Preston, author of the 1994 bestselling nonfiction book “The Hot Zone,” appeared on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” to discuss the nature of the Ebola virus and how it spreads.
“Well, it’s a little bit alarming to see Ebola doing this,” Preston began. “But Ebola is a type of virus you would call a ‘fast mutator.’ These are small changes in the virus, but they happen very frequently. The problem with Ebola is that it makes mistakes while it copies itself. The mistakes are actually good for Ebola because they help Ebola change, and as a result of this, as it jumps from one human body to the next, roughly half the time it’s got a mutation.”
“So what this means is that the tests, the drugs, and the vaccines are all keyed in to that genetic code of the virus,” Preston continued. “If the virus is changing, then the drugs, the vaccines and the tests might not be as effective.”
“It’s almost like a race to outsmart a virus that is more intelligent, or at least as intelligent, as us,” Tapper said. “Because of its mutation, is containment truly the best that mankind can hope for in battling this disease?”
“Well, actually, we are pretty smart,” Preston answered. “The virus itself is not intelligent as we are, in other words, it’s not a conscious entity, but it is very much an entity, and as a biological thing, it’s clever in its own way, but we have the ability to move fast in developing drugs and vaccines and methods of using them.”
“Did you think that we would be, by 2014, as a society, better prepared than we are, or are we doing ok?” Tapper asked.
“Well, I think we’re doing the best we can,” Preston said. “There may be a little bit of finger-pointing, there always is in a situation like this, but I think of Ebola as an act of nature. It’s the biological equivalent of a tsunami, and yes, we are having trouble handling it. I think we sometimes give ourselves a little too much credit as humans, as being able to control and understand nature, when in fact we do neither.”
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