Coping with Ebola and Other Emerging Infections

| 11/18/2014 4:00:00 PM

Ebola virus

The Ebola virus is inherently a gloomy topic; it’s not cheerful, not fun. Ebola is an incredibly serious disease. Nevertheless, despite its terrible impact on people, it has a lot to teach us about our relationship with the world. More importantly, it can be treated — and not only with pharmaceuticals. Natural medicines can, in fact, be quite useful in helping prevent and treat not only Ebola, but other infections emerging from our impact on the planet.

In the fall of 2014, for the first time, Ebola virus disease (EVD — commonly called "Ebola" now) broke out of the African nations and reached (via airplane, as epidemiologists had long predicted it would) the United States, which caused, inevitably, a great deal of fear and subsequent panic.

One thing that became clear early on is that the United States and its legions of medical professionals were woefully unprepared — they just did not handle the arrival of the virus well. From improper sterile procedures and quarantines in the hospitals to the Centers for Disease Control allowing an infected nurse to fly on a plane with 140 other people (the worst-case scenario) the system immediately showed how unsuited it is to handling the emergence of a deadly, invasive pathogen.

Despite its fearsome nature, Ebola is only one of scores of emerging pathogens that the human species now faces. The problem, at root, is environmental — inextricably interwoven into our burgeoning population numbers and resultant impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems. Unfortunately the problems are only going to worsen as our numbers continue to rise and more landscape is altered for our use.

To get an idea of just how much impact our population increases are having, in 1950 the United States population was 150 million. In 1980 it was 226 million. In 2010 it was 308 million. Currently it is near 321 million. When I was born in 1952, the United States was structured around 170 million fewer people than it is now. All those additional people have needed houses and food and clothing and cars and jobs — and that need has put tremendous pressure on the Earth’s ecosystems. So, more forests are cut, more houses are then built in formerly undisturbed ecosystems. More land is turned to agricultural use, again disturbing habitat, in a process that is occurring across the globe.

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