(London Telegraph) The Ebola virus – its very name seems to have come straight from the heart of darkness – is striking fear across the globe. It has killed (officially) 4,546 people out of 9,191 infected since the first case in West Africa in December 2013, but it now poses a risk to millions. Yesterday, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, described it as the “biggest health threat to the world in a generation”. A politician’s soundbite, or the stark reality?
The Belgian scientist who co‑discovered the virus is phlegmatic. Professor Peter Piot, now director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says there is good news – and bad. Back in September 1976, he was a 27‑year-old researcher at a microbiology laboratory in Antwerp when he identified the new pathogen. He discovered it in vials of blood taken from a Flemish missionary nun in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), who had died of a mysterious illness that was killing scores of people. Prof Piot flew out a few days later, part of a team who would track the virus to its source – fruit bats – in the rainforest.