Ebola is one of the most feared of all viruses because, in the words of Richard Preston, it "does in ten days what it takes HIV ten years to accomplish" (Preston 46). The images on the daily news speaks of this fear and horror to North Americans innocent of Ebola's curse. Viruses cannot be seen, touched, fought&emdash;they can only be contained. Unlike the virus, however, fear is not confinable; it spreads through newspapers, photographs, and conversations to all parts of the world. And this fear is well warranted. Ebola can spread easily through contact of bodily fluid; were this not bad enough, the virus actually causes the body to leak fluids from every possible opening. Consequently, the dead and ill are extremely contagious, and friends and relatives must be forced away for their own safety. In fact, one of the primary functions of international relief organizations is to educate the locals regarding safe practices.
Despite all of their efforts, fear still remains, for one mistake can cost tens or hundreds of lives&emdash;or worse. Air travel has made it very easy and convenient for people to move about the world, including people infected with Ebola. If an unknowingly infected person were to fly to the United States, the effects could be devastating, both in terms of lives lost and worldwide panic caused. We in the United States are really not so far away from those in Africa; their plight can just as easily become ours. As great as humanity may be, as large and magnificent as our cities are, just tens of these microscopic particles could bring our entire world crashing down.
Science provides the hope of curing Ebola, of freeing our minds from this fear, just as it did for bacteria with the discovery of penicillin. Of course, a cure would disrupt the balance of nature, as it selects for resistant strains (if there are any) and destroys a very real part of the ecosystem. From the example of penicillin, we know that bacteria have compensated, and now there are a significant number of resistant organisms. It seems that nature is quite resilient, returning to a stable equilibrium in relatively short order.
We must then ask ourselves, how resilient is nature? On the one hand, humans have killed off a number of species of animals; on the other hand, bacteria seem to be thriving. Environmentalist Aldo Leopold says that "the less violent the manmade changes, the greater probability of successful readjustment" (Leopold 444), but obviously our effects upon bacteria have been the equivalent of nuclear bombs compared to the harpoons we use against whales. And what about the potential effects of something as deadly as Ebola upon us?
Leopold bases his theory of "violence" upon the assertion that nature, acting as a network, will not be able to compensate for quick, drastic changes and would universally fail should one happen. Obviously, this suggests that science should not create new technologies...