Ebola behaves like all other viruses that we know, such as influenza, mononucleosis, SARS or the mysterious pandemic swine-flu H1N1, “launched” in the summer of 2009.
Viruses behave like viruses, even when they mutate and become more aggressive, although it often suits better thinking of them as “transformers” invading the earth as in the most terrible science fiction movie.
When you read about such kind of assumption, it is always very useful to be cautious and analyse all the information available, to prevent the recurrence of hoaxes such as H1N1.
In order to obtain sensible conclusions, one should consider the scientific, immunological, commercial and political elements of the story.
As reported by the blogger Gioia Locati, in reference to 2005 outburst of SARS and then to 2009 case of swine flu, a simple analysis of historical data would be enough to understand what is the clinical history and the natural course of an infection of Ebola (or of its variants), placing the current epidemic in the right context, and perhaps in this way we could understand why the Ebola virus has never been able to cross the Strait of Gibraltar and remained confined (since 1976) in geographical areas of poverty and significant malnutrition, almost exclusively in Africa.
The same is true for other types of virus such as the one causing the “terrible” Marburg fever.
Some good news, at last
According to the direct sources of information from Sierra Leone the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, as can be read from the correlated Facebook page, the intensity of the infection appears to be slightly slowing down since at least the 17th of August (but we cannot be certain that the epidemic spread will stop); however, the mortality rate linked to the virus is improving significantly, with more and more disease-free people released from the various observation and isolation centres.
Still prudently, all this means that the virus is getting in contact with people more and more resistant and able to better fight against the infection, therefore not killing them.
The data reported from Sierra Leone are in fairly good agreement with those reported from the site of the World Health Organization (WHO Ebola outbreak), which takes into account also all the numerous doubtful or only suspected cases.
The bad news is that almost no press or media agency is currently talking about such reverse trend, which usually marks the natural reduction in severity of the epidemic.
At this time, in spite of Sierra Leone being the country which has had the highest number of Ebola cases and deaths due to the virus, sadly many more are the deaths from hunger in the region, when compared to those who died to virus-related illness.
Scientific numbers on the protection against viruses
The nutritional status of a living organism is directly responsible for its ability to fight against the development of a viral infection. Already in 2009, Eurosalus published a detailed article on the subject, referring to the mysterious pandemic H1N1 and, back then, even talking about Ebola.
Since 2001, a group of scientists at the North Carolina University published an article on the FASEB Journal around the results of a study showing how people with nutritional deficiencies allow the classic viruses to mutate (in that case, the influenza virus outburst in Bangkok), which gives birth to dangerous mutants, potentially lethal and more infectious (Beck MA et al, FASEB J 2001 Jun; 15 (8): 1481-3).
Such an example applies to all viruses, including those causing a common cold, AIDS or Ebola.
The subclinical lack of selenium (that is, a level not triggering any particular symptom linked to this mineral deficiency) is used by the human influenza virus, for example, to transform into a more virulent form and to infect other patients more easily.
Other subsequent scientific publications described the importance of such observation also for vitamin C (Li W et al, J Nutr 2006 Oct; 136 (10): 2611-6); the article, published in the Journal of Nutrition, showed not only that a lack of vitamin C may promote pulmonary complications of influenza, but that the mineral deficiency itself causes also a metabolic interference on the body, activating the nuclear factor called NF-kB.
The adequate intake of vitamins and minerals seems to be essential for antiviral defence. On the basis of 1999 publications from Shankar around the role of zinc in infections resistance, in 2008 the researcher Ananda Prasad at the University of Detroit (USA) published on Molecular Medicine an interesting review around the defensive role of zinc and other minerals in treating and even preventing viral infections (Prasad AS, Mol Med. 2008 May-Jun, 14 (5-6): 353-357).
Semba and Tang, from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, had already published data of this type in the British Journal of Nutrition, related to HIV infection.
The significance of these data also extends to social and ethical issues: many third world countries, and in particular those states mostly affected today by the current epidemic of Ebola, do not even reach the minimum levels of intake of selenium, zinc or Vitamin C in their diet, so possibly becoming not only a reservoir of virus that can be transmitted to those who are properly nourished, but also an outbreak of transforming mutant viruses.
Now, what happens with the terrifying Ebola virus is finally clearer, which keeps disturbing the sleep of humans and virologists by constantly mutating.
The virus hits helpless people, within whom it partially mutates and carries on infecting other malnourished people, until it finds a more resilient organism where it will not be able to continue its run any longer.
Some historical data
As you can see from the table, taken from official resources of the WHO in July 2014, since the appearance of the first known case of Ebola (in 1976) until today, there has been an epidemic cycle every 5-7 years, but the peak of the current cycle has definitely been higher than in other years.
The analytical data are also available from another WHO-related link, continuously updated. It should be noted that the epidemic cycles, even if severe and with high mortality, have always been self-limiting. That is, after having hit people with poor immunocompetence, cycles have stopped and ceased to be lethal.
Some political and social data
The prevention of viral spread is carried out not only by looking for drugs, but also by helping a cultural and nutritional improvement for those people who do not have enough food and resources.
That is a problem true for all old and new viruses, from SARS to avian influenza virus H5N1 or the next one H7N9, and of course Ebola and Marburg viruses.
A greater attention for the issues faced by poor countries and for their nutritional conditions, as it has been recalled by the study carried out in the hospital in Gulu, Uganda, could definitely be key in controlling many forms of disease for all the inhabitants of the planet and to prevent the virus diffusion in “rich” areas, which are actually deficient in minerals, fruits and vegetables.
In fact, we do realise that today’s Ebola emergence is following a communication pattern very similar to the one adopted by other “claims” of virus spread, sadly linked to poorly scientific information.
It is paradoxical that millions of dollars or euros get immediately released to support the drug and vaccine discovery, while the virus is going to behave, most likely, as all other viruses in the world, that is, by completing its epidemic cycle and going back to a silent zone.
Very little is proposed for the improvement of life conditions in the regions hit.
Many have shouted against new proposals of therapy, stating that only the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has the ability to define one therapy as appropriate, while the names and surnames of industries ready to produce a vaccine or a drug have already been highlighted (as reported in the aforementioned article on the New York Times) in a webpage of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta.
These are companies that have already been funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Department of Defence to develop products to fight Ebola off. The list includes Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Profectus Biosciences and Crucell: all companies with a secured future.
Then, there are also doubts emerging in a “critical” area, which we flag with a certain level of attention.
While updating about the hottest moments of the epidemic through its Facebook page on the 23th of July, the Ministry of Health of Sierra Leone issued two “special” reports, which left amazed the most attentive readers: a) the treatment centre for Ebola patients in Kenema had to carry on its operations; b) the activities in the laboratories of Tulane University, in which tests on Ebola were carried out, should have immediately stopped.
Undoubtedly, a logical question is why there was a treatment centre for Ebola cases before the outburst of the epidemic phase and in absence of reported cases and, most importantly, what actually Tulane University did during the Ebola tests.
Recent history is already too full of oddities to keep looking for others (these days, some blogs are full of connections between the Ebola outbreak and the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines plane in the Ukrainian sky, in which one of the world’s leading experts on Ebola, Glenn Thomas, was travelling, apparently also the responsible person for the treatment centre in Kenema).
Unfortunately, the world will carry on also through not very transparent information, but we still have to keep our feet stable on the ground and work around proved scientific data and go beyond any conjecture or assumption, in order to keep personal health and to take care of the society where we live in, everyone in the measure he/she can afford.
What to do to prevent
From what said above, it is obvious that there is no direct or specific treatment against Ebola, but since the virus behaves and will behave in any probability as any other virus, we recommend a correct nutritional planning, the control of inflammation and the integration of selenium, zinc, copper and manganese, along with the traditional intake of Vitamin C. That is truly the most powerful and cost-effective defence against any type of viral infection.
Soon, we will probably see the re-opening of the anti-influenza vaccination campaign riding along the emotional fear generated by the Ebola outbreak.
As we have said in the past years, the correct intake of an adequate mineral complex, a mix of zinc and immunoglucans and a bit of Vitamin C in addition (500 to 1000 mg daily) are the tools that we indicate to best prevent influenza infections and winter cold syndromes.
Food supplements are those that can really improve our immune system against any virus. As history has been teaching us.