November 19, 2014
In David Quammen’s book entitled Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, he predicts that the word “zoonosis”—the process by which a pathogen jumps from a non-human to a human and is able to successfully establish itself—is a “word of the future, destined for heavy use in the 21st century.” That book was written in 2012, and it seems that amidst the Ebola panic sweeping the U.S. his prediction has come true, as that virus is fast becoming the best known example of this natural process.
Quammen spends a good chunk of the early part of the book discussing the mysterious appearances of Ebola throughout the last four decades, describing how the virus appears suddenly, infects, kills, and then disappears. Much like rabies and Lyme disease, it exists in and does little harm to its animal “reservoir” host, but once transferred from it can be deadly to many others. It’s not yet known which animal carries the Ebola virus in this way, which makes efforts to stop it that much more difficult.
This is all scary stuff, given the infectious nature of Ebola. But it’s important to note that at press time, the same number of people had contracted Ebola on U.S. soil as had started at quarterback for the Washington Redskins (three). So this month’s cover story by CLM Member Nichol Bunn isn’t meant to serve panic and fear as its main dish. In our industry, however, it pays to keep an eye on the changing menu of exposures and risks in this world. And if Quammen is right, it’s something with which we’re all about to be more familiar.