Via The New Yorker, a thoughtful short essay by Michael Specter: After Ebola. Excerpt:
Ebola is truly deadly, but the many lurid headlines predicting a global pandemic miss a central point. In its epidemic reach, Ebola is often compared with H.I.V. But they are nothing alike. H.I.V. has killed at least thirty million people, mostly by spreading quietly, burrowing into the cells it infects, and then, at times, lurking for years before destroying the immune system of its host. Ebola’s incubation period is between two and twenty-one days long. The virus kills rapidly. There is nothing insidious about it.
Ebola won’t kill us all, but something else might. Like everything living on Earth, viruses must evolve to survive. That is why avian influenza has provoked so much anxiety; it has not yet mutated into an infection that can spread easily. Maybe it never will, but it could happen tomorrow.
A pandemic is like an earthquake that we expect but cannot quite predict. As [David] Quammen puts it, every emerging virus “is like a sweepstakes ticket, bought by the pathogen, for the prize of a new and more grandiose existence. It’s a long-shot chance to transcend the dead end. To go where it hasn’t gone and be what it hasn’t been. Sometimes the bettor wins big.”