The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How Ebola Aerosolized in Pigs Could Kill Millions

Up until today I’ve been moderately sanguine about Ebola outside of some poverty struck African countries with compromised health care systems (and places like Greece.)  The main danger is incompetence and austerity, as with the CDC and Texas fumbling their Ebola cases.

No more.

Ebola is aerosolized in pigs.  This may not seem like a big deal, but in many countries, like China, pigs live in very close proximity to humans.  If Ebola gets into South China and the Chinese do get right on it, it really could kill millions.  In any country where large numbers of people live cheek and jowl with their pigs,  this is potentially explosive.

And if it does explode that way, well, some of those people will wind up traveling to your first world country while asymptomatic (or while with a light fever).

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  1. Celsius 233

    Ebola Can Be Transmitted Via Infectious Aerosol Particles.
    This has been a major concern of mine.
    The consistent denial of this possibility is at best, dangerous.

    It is incumbent upon every individual to keep well informed at every minute of the news stream.

    Everything is fuck-all and don’t believe anything from the MSM.
    Your safety is up to you, and nobody else; so stay INFORMEND!!!!

  2. BC Nurse Prof

    Arlington, VA reports that a haz-mat team is dealing with the situation of a woman on a bus tour who vomited in the Pentagon parking lot. She reported that she had been in west Africa two weeks ago.

  3. Lisa Formally OldSkeptic

    Ebola is, at least, already partially capable of being passed by aerosols. If you are in close quarters with someone affected and they sneeze on you (lots of liquid there) then there is a chance of being infected. How much a chance…we don’t know.

    Because it only affected poor African areas no one has really studied it.

    There are all sorts of questions about it. One is how long it survives outside a body? If you leave ‘bodily fluids’ on a surface, how long will it live for someone else to maybe pick it up?

    One thing that saved us from a far worse AIDS epidemic than we got was that the virus died so quickly outside the body. Imagine if it lived longer, then infection from things like mosquitoes could have happened.

    What is a ‘good’ environment for Ebola to stay alive outside the body, hot, dry, wet? We don’t know.

    How fast can it evolve? Some bacteria/virus evolve rapidly (eg flu) , some are much slower. What is Ebola’s rate and the mechanisms that can accelerate it? We don’t know.

    What other animals can it live in, we know some of them, but all? Birds?

    Do you need to breath in fluids through your mouth, while your nose gives some protection? We don’t know, maybe it prefers the nose. Eyes?

    Can you be infected through very small skin breaks or does it require something larger?

    How have those people in hazmat suits gotten infected?

    What is the load you need to get to become infected?

    Basically we know sod all about this thing. And that is the scary thing. Some of our protection methods may be totally useless.

    So no one has any idea how bad this could get. You easily could see a scenario where it settles into city ghettos, breaking out every now and then, or it evolves and lowers its fatality rate in exchange for a higher infection rate.

    Are we going to get lucky (like SARS) or unlucky (like AIDS)?

    So we are paying the price for a lack of basic research. Which, after AIDS, you’d have thought we would have learned from that bitter lesson.

  4. lowfiron

    If this is true or it is likely, why hasn’t the rate of infection increased in Africa to the level of a flu virus? If it was a flu the rate of infection would be very rapid. Also Nigeria and some other African country that I can’t think of has had some level of success controlling it.
    There are plenty of unknowns but the facts are it has spread when in direct contact with people with the disease or cadavers.
    Yes, it is likely that a person gets infected by touching an infected person, then they pick their nose or rub their eyes or perhaps through a wound. I buy the aerosol idea if you are in close proximity over a certain amount of time.
    There are a lot of things that are not understood but you have to go with the history of the disease and the best observations you can get. There are different strains and the virus could mutate into an easier transmittable form. How likely is that? Speculation or playing a guessing game is just ginning up fear.
    I wikied Globalresearch and it seems to be somewhat suspect in the conspiracy game and has a political agenda of sorts.
    I’d need to hear from other sources, like university research labs, the NIH or other institutions with good track records. I’m not willing to give up on the whole health care community or experts because one source is kicking against the experience of the health care people in the field and the on going research.

  5. wmd

    If you read the sources from Ian’s link your questions about inhaled particles are partly answered. is the Pig-Macacque (Non Human Primate) aerosol infection study.

    The study design should have ensured that aerosol transmission was most likely mode of transmission, I’ve been told that subsequent analysis suggests there was cross contamination (fecal particles from PPE other than outer gloves getting into the NHP food is a possibility). There’s a photo of the lab in the linked pdf file (don’t scroll down if gross pathology images bother you – first page photo is just animals in cages and the barrier keeping the pigs away from the NHP.

  6. wmd

    Following up – the authors of the pig – macaque study did another study and found no aerosol transmission between primates.

    Pigs seem to give off more aerosol viral particles than other species – commentary on the above article

  7. Linda J

    lowfiron, i agree that has some weird stuff. i don’t agree with the rationalwiki site on their references to zionism being conspiracies. zionism (as observed) is a plan to take over the land of palestine to create a state for the jews. if the jews want a state (the better to keep up with the theocracy in iran?), i really don’t care. but i do care that they have stolen the land of a whole people to build one on.

    at any rate, yes, get a second opinion on anything they publish (including zionism).

  8. Roman Berry

    Ian, please don’t spread fear. I just read the entire linked article and I find it wholly unpersuasive.

  9. Otis

    Snopes calls bullshit. Breitbarts House of Shrieking Loons disseminating this “news” should’ve been a clue.

  10. After reading the article I am in agreement with Roman and Otis, and think lowfiron makes a good point when he says “If this is true or it is likely, why hasn’t the rate of infection increased in Africa to the level of a flu virus?”

  11. Stormcrow

    Answer for Lisa, at least about the mutation rate.

    This has been studied. Old news, really; the writeup is dated 1997: The Origin and Evolution of Ebola and Marburg Viruses (PDF).

    Here’s the abstract:

    Molecular evolutionary analyses for Ebola and Marburg viruses were conducted with the aim of elucidating evolutionary features of these viruses. In particular, the rate of nonsynonymous substitutions for the glycoprotein gene of Ebola virus was estimated to be, on the average, 3.6 X 1O-5 per site per year. Marburg virus was also suggested to be evolving at a similar rate. Those rates were a hundred times slower than those of retroviruses and human influenza A virus, but were of the same order of magnitude as that of hepatitis B virus. When these rates were applied to the degree of sequence divergence, the divergence time between Ebola and Marburg viruses was estimated to be more than several thousand years ago. Moreover, most of the nucleotide substitutions were transitions and synonymous for Marburg virus. This suggests that purifying selection has operated on Marburg virus during evolution.

    Fourth sentence: Two orders of magnitude slower than influenza.

    Influenza is a fast mutater, so the news could be better.

    This also suggests that you should be MUCH more worried about influenza, since it kills about 35 thousand Americans every year. And, unlike Ebola, it already passes from human to human through the air. Easily.

    Suggest you might check out Tara Smith’s blog, Aetiology, and Heather Lander’s Ebola blog, Pathogen Perspectives. Both of these people actually know what they’re talking about.

  12. ibaien

    this is the shark attack summer of 2001 all over again; I don’t come to this site for uninformed fear-mongering.

    if you’re looking for aerosolized Ebola, try ft. Meade. I’m sure they cracked that nut during the Cold War.

  13. Lisa Formally OldSkeptic

    The biggest fear about ebola (at this moment) is lack of resources, coordination and downright stupidity.

    The best current experts about it at the moment are people like Médecins Sans Frontières, Cuban doctors, etc who have been on the front line with this and have a lot of hard won practical experience. What is needed is for that knowledge to be spread everywhere and applied rigorously.

    But we are seeing, particularly in the US, MBAs and others including the military, with zero medical (particularly epidemiological) experience trying to run this…’what could possibly go wrong’. These people couldn’t run a chook raffle.

    The key to dealing with this is for it to be brought under control before it gets into cities/farms/evolves/etc.

    But I see little sign of the type of leadership and coordination necessary to achieve this within a reasonable time period. The longer it goes on the greater the (currently) unknown risks start to become (based on the fact that there are currently known risks of ebola and also unknown ones that will take time and research to uncover).

    Because the efforts are being led largely by idiots, plus a lot of arse covering of mistakes made to date, you can guarantee that this is going to get worse before it gets better.

    How bad is anyone’s guess at the moment, though you’d expect it to to be worse than what the optimists think, but less than the pessimists. The real danger is (probably) that it finds new areas to settle into, sitting quietly and evolving after this outbreak, then breaking out in the future in a more virulent form.

    Another example of ‘the collapse of competence’ and the ‘politicisation of everything’ that is endemic now, particularly in western countries (the sociopathic states?) .

  14. Lisa Formally OldSkeptic

    Stormcrow: thanks for that, that slower mutation rate is one piece of good news.

    Though do we know if ebola has the potential to do a similar thing to the flu, in that influenza’s mutation rate gets accelerated by the human/pig/chicken cycle (from memory, might have got the steps wrong)? Even if just some other popular animal becoming a reservoir for it then that would be extremely bad news, because it leaves the potential for future and possibly mutated outbreaks.

    That (at least to me) seems to be an ‘unknown’ at the moment and another real good reason for everyone to stop frigging around, pull the finger out and shut down this outbreak before we start to find out such things in real life, rather than in a far safer laboratory.

  15. Everythings Jake

    The problem is still medicine for profit.

  16. Lisa Formally OldSkeptic

    It is becoming more and more apparent that the real issue with ebola is the screw ups being made in dealing with it.

    In its current version it should be quite controllable (even given the current ‘unknowns’).

    Doesn’t mean to say future break outs might not be far worse, which the current screw ups are increasing the probability of. The faster it is got under control the lower the chance of it spreading further into the biosphere (creating new reservoirs) and the lower the chance of negative mutations.

    This is Keystone Cop stuff.

  17. Stormcrow

    ibaien, that’d be Fort Detrick, not Fort Meade.

    But Nixon shut down the offensive US biowar program back in 1969, before anybody knew the Ebola filovirus even existed. It first surfaced, to the best of my knowledge, in Sudan and in a rural village in then-Zaire called Yambuku, in 1976. See Tara Smith’s survey: Ebola (Deadly Diseases & Epidemics).

    I have read that Biopreparat weaponized Ebola in the 80s, before Yeltsin shut that program down in 1992. They didn’t use genetic manipulation, but went the conventional route: encapsulate the virions into particles about 1 micron across to protect them and insure they could be breathed in and would stick to the lung, insure the particles had the proper electrostatic charge prior to release, then use bomblets to actually discharge the payload.

    But the same source indicated that they didn’t like their Ebola weapon much: it was too fragile.

    They simply weaponized everything they could get their hands on, per policy, and tested it.

    They had far greater confidence in their anthrax and smallpox weapons.

    BTW, I just learned, about 2 minutes ago, that a book David Quammen wrote on this subject has just been released: Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus.

    This guy is an excellent lay reporter on emerging diseases; if you haven’t read Spillover then I strongly suggest you do so. Another well-written book, by a specialist, at the “educated layman” level is The Viral Storm. Wolfe is a virologist who concentrates on the evolutionary and ecological factors of emerging diseases.

    I’ve found this sort of material gives me a background that helps me to assess incidents like this, layman though I be. I could cite at least another half dozen works like this without even half trying.

    We don’t have to do this sort of risk assessment in complete ignorance.

  18. guest

    While this is a real possibility, and one the media seem to ignore, even the scaremongers. I think we have enough to worry about with the disease in its current form.
    It’s encouraging that Nigeria and Senegal seem to have been able to handle the outbreaks in their countries, the scary part is that it is still doubling its victims every few weeks in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
    And it is shocking that almost all of the coverage I see (not much access to TV, just the internet) seems to be focused on the US victims, or poteniat victims, or the periodic panics because someone threw up in a parking lot or school or airplane somewhere. Africa seems to have been moved to the back page, again.
    Not that I am taking my chances by getting on a plane (I always get stuck next to a sick kid on my outward bound flights whenever I used to take a vacation). But that is an easy choice, since there are already so many other reasons not to fly anymore.

  19. Stormcrow


    It’s encouraging that Nigeria and Senegal seem to have been able to handle the outbreaks in their countries, the scary part is that it is still doubling its victims every few weeks in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

    But bear in mind that if you concentrate the susceptible population enough, you’ll jack up the effective reproduction rate of any virus by orders of magnitude.

    Consider rabies, which we normally consider non-infectious, absent an actual penetrating bite from an infected animal.

    Some virologists now believe that it’s actually communicable, within its reservoir population (bats), without bites. Because they’re packed together in their cave roosts literally carpeting the ceiling, jammed body to body, for a good fraction of their lives.

    Liberia and Sierra Leone? Dense urban slums without the slightest bit of sanitation, containing populations who are utterly ignorant of the risks, and not inclined to listen to anything their governments tell them, due to the legendary untrustworthiness of said governments.

    This is about THE most favorable environment you could present a virus like Ebola with. Under these circumstances, you can expect an R₀ larger than 1, almost as a matter of course.

  20. Lisa Formally OldSkeptic

    Re Keystone Cops:

    “Troops preparing for deployment to the Ebola front will be given only a single four-hour training session to transition from their usual soldiering to a campaign against a virus.”

    “The troops are still getting those full body protective suits the trainers are wearing though, right? Not at all, according to the Pentagon they’re going to get just the gloves and in some cases the face mask.”

  21. Lisa Formally OldSkeptic

    And for some good news, this is how to do it:

    “Nigeria’s Ebola crackdown is an example to the world
    Persistence, rigorous enforcement of quarantine and disinfection of premises contribute to a success story for Nigeria”

    And from the NYT:
    “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola ”
    “Cuba is an impoverished island that remains largely cut off from the world and lies about 4,500 miles from the West African nations where Ebola is spreading at an alarming rate.

    Yet, having pledged to deploy hundreds of medical professionals to the front lines of the pandemic, Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.”

    Amazing what adults can achieve.

  22. the nicest time to log in the site is when stuff is posted, and has not gone out through various means on the Internet.

  23. Stormcrow

    Lisa wrote …

    “Troops preparing for deployment to the Ebola front will be given only a single four-hour training session to transition from their usual soldiering to a campaign against a virus.”

    “The troops are still getting those full body protective suits the trainers are wearing though, right? Not at all, according to the Pentagon they’re going to get just the gloves and in some cases the face mask.”

    The absence of protective suits may not be a mistake.

    Those suits are hot as a steambath inside, unless you’re connected to a continuous external airflow. It’s not just the O₂, it’s the cooling.

    In other words, this mitigation comes at a nontrivial cost. If you’re used to these and you have a “backup” who’s not suited, who can monitor you, that’s one thing. But odds are, these troops have neither.

    Under those circumstances, they may be better off with “gloves and sometimes a face mask.”

    See Heather Lander’s blog for more about this issue; she’s spent significant time in full-protective-suit BSL-4 facilities and talks about the training and equipment issues w.r.t. Ebola.

    See also one of the informative pieces about “clipboard man”: Nothing strange about clipboard guy without hazmat suit in transfer of Ebola patient: airline.

  24. Lisa FOS

    Stormcrow, if they are not following the MSF protocols (which the CDC has belatedly taken up), the some are going to be infected, that’s a virtual 100% certainty.

  25. jump

    Seems Ebola 2014 is pretty good at mutating (faster than the flu).
    Not good news.

  26. Stormcrow

    Lisa FOS, I agree completely.

    But my agreement comes with a couple of conditions:

    • These people are soldiers by inclination, career choice, and training, not HCWs. I’d be willing to bet blind that, prior to getting this set of orders, their training in the use of the MSF guidelines (PDF) has been as close to zero as makes no difference. It may be a very good idea indeed to give them that training, intensively, for reasons that are really a sidebar issue. But I’m certain they’re not going to be at levels of proficiency an experienced field medic would consider adequate by the time they deploy in West Africa to help with this mess. There hasn’t be time to get them fully up to speed and there won’t be: this crisis is here right now and not a year from now.

    Some of them are going to get infected, no matter what. With thousands of people being thrust into a situation their entire careers have left them unprepared for, I can think of nothing more certain. This risk cannot be vitiated; it can only be imperfectly mitigated. In other words, with thoughtful choice and fielding of our mitigation, we can reduce that “some” to a lowest practical level, but that level will not be zero no matter how we do this.

    Actually, I’d say the same for professional HCWs, in a mess like this. If we’re talking about thousands of them, which we ought to be. Some will have the devil’s luck, and some will manage to screw up.

  27. Stormcrow

    jump, I read through that article at Zerohedge. The “keystone” part of the argument, which asserts a mutation rate for Ebola 2014 similar to that of influenza, (the “Operon Labs” part) is not referenced by a valid link. None of the 5 citations at the bottom asserts this.

    So where do these results actually come from, and who’s reviewed them??

    Tyler Durden cites the Gire reference,, for some of this, but if you dial up that link, I guarantee you won’t see those graphics or the associated conclusions unless you have a paid subscription. All you’ll see is an abstract, which doesn’t really say anything of the kind.

    This is a Real Big Deal because Zerohedge isn’t written by biologists, it’s an economics blog. In other words, in this area, the writer is a layman, same as you or me.

    That means, among other things, that he’s a lot easier to con.

    I get twitchy about things like this when the SAME BLOG hosts pieces with titles like this one: EXCLUSIVE: Was Ebola Accidentally Released from a Bioweapons Lab In West Africa?. I smell something here and it isn’t sweet flowers.

  28. sanctimonious purist

    Thanking 3M was my first clue:

    “We thank Kathleen Harriman, PhD, MPH, RN, Chief, Vaccine Preventable Diseases Epidemiology Section, Immunization Branch, California Department of Public Health, and Nicole Vars McCullough, PhD, CIH, Manager, Global Technical Services, Personal Safety Division, 3M Company, for their input and review.”

    3M makes the plastics for the respirators.

  29. Jack D. Ripper

    Look for it coming to a large open air event near you- the pigbola truck bomb.

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