Category Archives: medical

“Outbreak” (1995 film) and “The Hot Zone” (1994 book) prescient for “Ebola Bill”

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On a day when Ebola virus is big news, as a Texas hospital failed to hospitalize a patient who had traveled to Liberia, it’s well to remember one of the most important science-fiction films about something similar, “Outbreak“, by Wolfgang Petersen, in 1995, from WB.  I remember that this film was shown to honors and Advance Placement chemistry classes one time in the spring of 2005 when I was substitute teaching at West Potomac High School near Alexandria, VA, a curious artifact of my own history (more here).

There is also a TV mini-series, “Robin Cook’s Virus” (1995).

The film supposes that an Ebola-like disease in Africa (the Motaba River Valley in Congo) had been vanquished.  The virus has mutated to airborne form and accidentally been imported into Cedar Creek, CA in present day by a money.  And there is a government plot to destroy Cedar Creek with a bomb. The film ran longer than one block at school and seems like a strange fit for high school.

Of course, the classic book on Ebola is Robert Preston’s “The Hot Zone“, (Knopf) which covers the stories of some related viruses like Marburg.  It also covers Ebola Reston in 1989, which appeared among primates brought to northern Virginia but which did was not transmissible to humans.  I bought that book in the 90s at a book fair in the company cafeteria at work, which earned me the nickname “Ebola Bill”.  How prescient!

Laurie Garret’s “Coming Plague: Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance” talked about Lassa Fever, Marburg and Ebola, detailing a European who survived Ebola in the bush but went totally bald.  There is also Judith Miller’s “Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War

On Anderson Cooper’s AC360 show on CNN today, David Quammer discussed his book “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic” (2013),  (NPR discussion) where he suggested that Ebola may be unlikely to become airborne, but it might be shed in body fluids before there are symptoms (which is true of HIV), but that would mean we need a much more sensitive test for the antigen.  Why not a Western Blot test?

(Published:  Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 at 11:30 PM EDT)