Viruses, Plagues, and History

By Michael B. A. Oldstone | Go to book overview
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Lassa fever virus, Hantavirus, and Ebola virus -- all equally lethal infectious agents but members of different viral families -- share the ability to cause hemorrhagic fever ( 1). Once infected with any of these viruses, the victim soon suffers profuse breaks in small blood vessels, causing blood to ooze from the skin, mouth, and rectum. Internally, blood flows into the pleural cavity where the lungs are located, into the pericardial cavity surrounding the heart, into the abdomen, and into organs like the liver, kidney, heart, spleen, and lungs. Eventually, this uncontrolled bleeding causes prostration and death. We have no effective vaccine to prevent these potential plagues. Once hemorrhagic fever strikes, it is usually relentless and devastating.

The agents of hemorrhagic fevers can be placed into two groups. First are the killer viruses that are endemic in remote areas. These viruses await transport to introduce them into highly susceptible and distant urban populations. Representatives of this group are Lassa fever virus and Ebola virus, both of which are endemic in Africa. As in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries


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Viruses, Plagues, and History


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