(Science Mag) ‘Finally, a virus got me.’ Scientist who fought Ebola and HIV reflects on facing death from COVID-19

I shared a room with a homeless person, a Colombian cleaner, and a man from Bangladesh—all three diabetics, incidentally, which is consistent with the known picture of the disease. The days and nights were lonely because no one had the energy to talk. I could only whisper for weeks; even now, my voice loses power in the evening. But I always had that question going around in my head: How will I be when I get out of this?

After fighting viruses all over the world for more than 40 years, I have become an expert in infections. I’m glad I had corona and not Ebola, although I read a scientific study yesterday that concluded you have a 30% chance of dying if you end up in a British hospital with COVID-19. That’s about the same overall mortality rate as for Ebola in 2014 in West Africa. That makes you lose your scientific level-headedness at times, and you surrender to emotional reflections. They got me, I sometimes thought. I have devoted my life to fighting viruses and finally, they get their revenge. For a week I balanced between heaven and Earth, on the edge of what could have been the end.

I was released from the hospital after a long week. I traveled home by public transport. I wanted to see the city, with its empty streets, its closed pubs, and its surprisingly fresh air. There was nobody on the street—a strange experience. I couldn’t walk properly because my muscles were weakened from lying down and from the lack of movement, which is not a good thing when you’re treating a lung condition. At home, I cried for a long time. I also slept badly for a while. The risk that something could still go seriously wrong keeps going through your head. You’re locked up again, but you’ve got to put things like that into perspective. I now admire Nelson Mandela even more than I used to. He was locked in prison for 27 years but came out as a great reconciler.

I have always had great respect for viruses, and that has not diminished. I have devoted much of my life to the fight against the AIDS virus. It’s such a clever thing; it evades everything we do to block it. Now that I have felt the compelling presence of a virus in my body myself, I look at viruses differently. I realize this one will change my life, despite the confrontational experiences I’ve had with viruses before. I feel more vulnerable.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

One comment on “(Science Mag) ‘Finally, a virus got me.’ Scientist who fought Ebola and HIV reflects on facing death from COVID-19

  1. Pageantmaster ن‎ says:

    It is a sly culling disease, targeting the weak, old and infirm. It is an abomination and must be relentlessly driven out. We cannot live with it – like Polio, Leprosy, TB and Yellow Fever we must eradicate it with unrelenting determination. We and all our institutions are being tested. If our leaders won’t do what is needed, then we must by closing all doors to replication until those like Dr Piot perhaps come up with an answer.

    Long ago and far away I visited what had been a 19th Century Royal Naval base on a remote island. It had been a base for the Royal Navy’s anti-slaving operations, but the downside was that often the slave ships captured had cholera and yellow fever which infected the British crews. The RN crews were landed in a remote cove where they were quarantined. In those days there was no cure, so each day a cart with food and water was dispatched to a point near the cove and a pistol shot would alert the crews. Royal Marines guarded the exits and had anyone tried to get to the garrison, they would have been stopped. The sad results can be seen in the cemetaries around the cove.

    Later an airy infectious diseases hospital was built on a promontary with strong breezes taking infection out and away to sea. It was nowhere near the garrison or the main hospital and it and its staff were completely isolated from the community.

    The ‘science’ of untreatable viruses has been long settled and how to keep communities safe. It is we who have forgotten this, and if we do not follow the old science we risk what happened to Marseilles in 1720 when merchants pressed the city to allow their goods to be unloaded from a ship from fever-ridden Cyprus before the quarantine had ended. Within a short time half the population of the city perished.