US Doctor, Missionary Infected With Ebola in Liberia Outbreak
Dr. Kent Brantly gives orders for medication to administer to the Ebola patientsthrough the doorway of the isolation unit.
As a species, we tend to tell ourselves stories about what scares us most. In literature, film and television we process our cultural worries and bounce them back in various forms.
With new fears arising over the emergent MERS-CoV virus and the threat of a possible epidemic, we take a selective look at the history of the viral outbreak in literature, TV, film and even video games.
'The Decameron' (1353)
This 14th-century work by Italian poet Giovanni Boccaccio compiles 100 stories told by 10 different characters who have retreated from plague-ridden Florence in the time of the Black Death. Boccoccio's stories reflect the vast societal changes in Italy and Europe as a whole, brought about by the pandemic.
'The Masque of the Red Death' (1842)
Edgar Allen Poe's famous short story concerns a masquerade ball held by wealthy nobles during a terrible plague that has swept over the land. The castle abbey of the ball has been secured to keep out the plague, and the wealthy show disdain for those suffering outside the walls. But alas, history's most infamous party-crasher appears, in a blood-stained robe with a cadaverous mask. The party doesn't end well: "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."
'Earth Abides' (1949)
Among the first post-apocalyptic science fiction books, George R. Stewart's "Earth Abides" tells the story of Isherwood "Ish" Williams, an ecology student who returns from a solo trip to the mountains to find mankind wiped out by an airborne disease. "Earth Abides" combines Biblical elements with hard scientific conjecture about the results of overpopulation and the planet's unsparing approach to population control.
'The Seventh Seal' (1957)
Set during the time of the Black Death, Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's film "The Seventh Seal" concerns a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) and his famous game of chess with Death himself. Bergman's film is a meditation on the theological dilemma of "the silence of God" in the face of evil and tragedy like the Plague.
'The Last Man on Earth' (1964)
The first of several film adaptations of Richard Matheson's seminal sci-fi book "I Am Legend," this Italian horror flick stars Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, last man standing after a worldwide pandemic. The book and the film represent a shift toward horror tropes in viral outbreak stories -- the infected are a kind of feral zombie/vampire hybrid. Matheson's book would later be remade in "The Omega Man" (1971) and "I Am Legend" (2007).
'The Andromeda Strain' (1971)
With the dawning of the Space Age, and our new habit of putting things into space and bringing them back, it was just a matter of time before someone connected the dots. Based on the 1969 book by Michael Crichton, "The Andromeda Strain" concerns an extraterrestrial microorganism brought back by a military satellite. The alien microbe kills by rapidly clotting the blood -- investigators later find out it was part of a government bio-weapons program. With "The Andromeda Strain," mainstream audiences were introduced to a new and abiding phobia -- pandemics caused by engineered biological weapons.
'The Stand' (1978)
Considered to be among Stephen King's best novels, "The Stand" kicks off with a terrifying sequence in which a strain of weaponized influenza is accidentally released from a government lab. The devastating super-flu bug -- dubbed Captain Trips -- eventually causes a worldwide pandemic that wipes out 99 percent of Earth's human population. The book generated a surprisingly good TV miniseries in 1993.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, "Outbreak" came to theaters a year after the publication of "The Hot Zone," a non-fiction book about the Ebola virus, its variants, and the Reston virus incident outside Washington D.C. The film involves, yes, an outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus in the United States and is notable for the relatively big splash it made at the box office and in the media.
'Resident Evil' (1996)
The videogame franchise "Resident Evil" -- known as "Biohazard" in Japan -- began in 1996 with this hugely popular survival horror game for the PlayStation. In the game, players square off against hordes of mutated beasties infected with the T-virus pathogen, developed by the nefarious Umbrella Corporation. The game would eventually spawn, as it were, several novels, comic books, feature films and video game sequels -- including the recently released "Resident Evil: Revelations" for console systems.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
'28 Days Later' (2002)
One of many, many zombie movies with distinctly viral overtones, director Danny Boyle's horror "28 Days Later" is notable for several reasons. First, the cause of the zombie infection is mapped directly to the creation of an engineered virus called "Rage." Second, Boyle peppers the movie with squirm-inducing images calculated to prey on contemporary fears of infection and disease. And third, Boyle upends tradition by making the zombies fast and ferocious. Forget those shuffling corpses of movies past -- these zombies can move, baby!
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director Steven Soderbergh's thriller "Contagion" is the most recent film about viral fears to hit theaters, and almost surely the most scientifically accurate. The film depicts a virus outbreak and global pandemic, based in part on the 2003 SARS and the 2009 H1N1 crises. Soderbergh worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before and during filming to deliver what he called an "ultra-realistic" depiction of what a modern pandemic would look like. The DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film feature a generous assortment of extras on the science behind the movie.
Alarm soared in west Africa Monday over the deadliest Ebola virus outbreak yet, with an American doctor and a missionary contracting the disease in Liberia and the death of the first victim from Sierra Leone's capital Freetown.
Samaritan's Purse, a Christian charity, said that its physician Kent Brantly was in stable condition and had been isolated at the group's Ebola treatment center at the ELWA hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
His symptoms included intermittent fever and body aches.
Watch "Ebola: Are We Next?" on Thursday, Sep. 18, starting at 9/8c on both Discovery Channel and Discovery Fit & Health.
Nancy Writebol, a missionary with the SIM Christian charity that runs the hospital, was also in stable condition as of Sunday morning, according to Samaritan's Purse.
"They're both receiving intensive early treatment, but certainly it's a dangerous situation and a frightening situation," spokeswoman Melissa Strickland told AFP.
Early treatment is one key to recovery from the potentially deadly disease, she added.
"We remain optimistic for his recovery, but certainly he is not out of the woods," Strickland had said of Dr Brantly earlier.
"Samaritan's Purse is committed to doing everything possible to help Dr Brantly during this time of crisis. We ask everyone to please pray for him and his family," it added.
Writebol had been working as a hygienist responsible for detoxifying protective suits worn by those entering and exiting an Ebola isolation center.
She has a husband and two children, Samaritan's Purse said, adding that Brantly, 33, was also married with two children.
Brantly is the medical director of the Samaritan's Purse Ebola case management center in Liberia, where the agency continues to work with Liberian and international health officials to contain the outbreak.
He began work with the group's Liberia team in October and had focused on Ebola patients since June.
The US State Department said it was aware of an Ebola case but could not provide information about a private individual.
An Ebola epidemic has killed at least 660 people in four west African countries since the start of the year, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.
On Saturday, a woman suffering from the first confirmed case of Ebola in Sierra Leone's capital died after her parents forcibly took her from hospital, the health ministry in Freetown said.
Saudatu Koroma, a 32-year-old trainee hairdresser, was admitted to a clinic on July 23 and tested positive for the disease, which has already killed more than 200 people in the west African country.
"Her father and mother forcefully took her away from the hospital" two days later, health ministry spokesperson Sidi Yahya Tunis told AFP.
- 'Barely able to speak' -
Koroma's disappearance prompted Freetown authorities to broadcast a nationwide radio and television campaign, which eventually persuaded her to return for treatment, Tunis said.
Koroma died on Saturday while on her way to an Ebola treatment centre in the country's east.
"She was severely dehydrated and weak and could hardly speak," Tunis said. "Blood samples taken from both the father and mother are now being tested."
The house where the dead woman had lived in the east of Freetown has been quarantined with the other residents for 21 days.
Koroma was the first confirmed case of Ebola to reach Freetown in what has become the deadliest outbreak yet of the virus.
Sierra Leone's health ministry said an Ebola treatment centre has been established at Lakka Hospital and health staff have been trained to handle the disease. Surveillance has been increased and people have been asked to report all suspected cases to health authorities, it added.
An AFP journalist in Freetown said people were calm and going about their normal business on Sunday.
Freetown's first Ebola case comes after the incurable disease was confirmed to have reached Lagos in Nigeria, Africa's biggest city.
The health ministry said on Friday that a 40-year-old Liberian man died at a private hospital from the disease, after collapsing at Lagos international airport.
Nigerian carrier Arik said on Sunday it was halting direct flights to Liberia and Sierra Leone, which have seen close to 350 deaths from Ebola between them.
"As a result of the first Ebola virus death officially confirmed in Lagos... Arik Air will be suspending operations into Monrovia and Freetown effective July 28, 2014," an airline statement said. "This decision is a precautionary measure aimed at safeguarding the precious lives of Nigerians."
Ebola can fell victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and, in some cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
The highly contagious and often fatal disease spreads among humans via bodily fluids, including sweat, meaning one can get sick from touching an infected person.
With no vaccine, patients believed to have caught the virus must be isolated to prevent further contagion.