The evidence: research has found that up to 30% of villagers in Ebola-epicenter Gabon have anti-Ebola IgG (Georges et al 1999).
What that means: up to 30% of people in these villages caught Ebola and never even knew they had it.
The math extrapolated: say 100 people catch Ebola and 70 die…a 70% fatality rate. But 30% caught the virus and never showed symptoms, so in reality, only 70 of 130 died, which is about a 53% fatality rate.
Ebola is an example of why our virus stats in general are wrong. We are so focused on the sick, we don’t notice the healthy. For instance, actor Bill Murray and his eight siblings all contracted polio as children, but only the youngest sibling ever showed any symptoms. The other eight children, including Murray, never even knew they had polio.
In a sense, the most effective vaccination program we have for most viruses is viral outbreak. The work of benelles is so superior that many of us are walking around with silent immunity to diseases we mortally fear. Call it “walking immunity”.
Of course, first contact between a large population and a lethal virus can be devastating.
To understand first contact impact, let’s compare Ebola and smallpox. Smallpox had a 30% fatality rate and killed over 300 million people in the 20th century. Ebola has a ~70% fatality rate and killed less than 2,000 people in the 20th century.
An estimated 90% of Native Americans died from smallpox. That’s not a fatality rate, that’s 90% of a people.
12,000 years ago, the smallpox fatality rate in Europe may have been 90% too. Or maybe the virus began with a whimper and evolved in lock-step with European antibodies to become a lion. What we can say is, over the 12,000 years that Europeans battled smallpox, the fatality rate was eventually around 30%…far lower than for the late Native Americans.
The horror of first contact is what west Africa is experiencing with Ebola right now. But in a sense, humanity is already regrouping. The villagers in Gabon…up to 30% of their population is already silently immune to Ebola, bringing their effective fatality rate down to 50%.
During the next west African Ebola outbreak, thousands of citizens will already have walking immunity to the virus. This is because they will have silently contracted Ebola in 2014 and posses long-term antibodies.
Is Ebola the new smallpox? Psychologically, yes. By the numbers, no. The virus is not as contagious as smallpox, plus many thousands are currently developing walking immunity to Ebola, which will blunt future outbreaks. Currently, the west is working through the fear factor of first contact.
What would be useful: conducting widespread IgG testing in West Africa to determine how many people have walking immunity to Ebola. This would build peace of mind, and could be used to identify Ebola-immune caregivers and undertakers for the next outbreak.
We should also conduct IgG testing on the 70 nurses who took care of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, Texas. Such research may lead to new and startling conclusions. If a significant number of the Texas nurses have anti-EBO IgG, then perhaps receiving airborne doses of Ebola leads to a slow “viral ramp up” yielding a mild, asymptomatic form of Ebola. If this is the case, then airborne Ebola is “nature’s vaccine”, and already saving more lives than all our Ebola medical response teams put together. Paradoxically, in certain situations, this would also put high-tech “haz mat” workers at greater risk of death than “blue jeans” workers with higher rates of “air vaccination”.