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January 28, 2003

Catching Ebola From the Toilet

Catching Ebola From the Toilet Seat

AIDS patients are testing grounds for new diseases. Diseases that would otherwise be to weak to resist the human immune system live on in a sufferer from AIDS, which gives them time to evolve defenses and strategies for fighting the immune system. Every now and then the germs get passed on to another through a handshake, or a sneeze. AIDS itself cannot be passed on that way, but many diseases that AIDS gives a foothold to in an infected person can be. Most of the time the healthy person doesn't even notice, because the disease isn't sufficiently evolved enough to get past their immune system.

But that's okay with the disease. It has time, as long as the hiv positive host it is dwelling in goes untreated. It can be passed on again and again as long as it has reservoir of germs to pull from, and eventually it gets strong enough to infect the healthy.

Bolan said the majority of cases he has seen involve patients who also have HIV, but he added "I don't know if this problem is exclusively in the HIV-positive population, or across the board. Either way, the boils and ulcers that form on the skin are severe.

Germs don't necessarily evolve on their own, either. Staph bacteria, the cause of the skin disease in the story above, are especially good at swapping DNA among themselves, which lets them evolve at a much higher rate. If that doesn't seem a cause for worry, imagine a scenario where a staph bacteria that has evolved the ability to spread itself via a sneeze swapping DNA with the staph bacteria that causes Necrotizing Fasciitis.

Worried now?

In the next ten to twenty years, many of the new diseases we're going to face are going to come from the population suffering from AIDS. Their germs will spread by every means possible, and there's nothing we're going to be able to do about it. It's already too late. The only thing we can do is determine an approximate termination date for this future influx of disease, by finding a way to cure or eliminate AIDS. Once AIDS is eliminated, the host population that germs practice begins to dwindle, which reduces the speed the germ population as a whole evolves at. But until we get to that point, the chance that you or I will contract a disease that first appeared in an AIDS patient grows every day.

Note: I realize that the article above makes no definitive connection between AIDS patients and the drug-resistant staph, but the pattern of infection described fits a new disease outbreak from an AIDS population very nicely.

Posted by Bigwig at January 28, 2003 12:28 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
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