March 28, 2014 8:23 pm

This Week’s Classic Episode on Ebola, Viruses and Outbreaks Is More Timely than Ever


Photo Credit: MGVP/UC Davis

Photo Credit: MGVP/UC Davis

In between discoveries of new dwarf planets in the Oort Cloud and primordial gravitational waves and black holes and postponed rocket launches, you might have missed a bit of news: there’s an Ebola outbreak spreading across west Africa.

At one point, there was even a fear that it had spread to Canada, where a man was quarantined until it could be determined that the Ebola-like symptoms were not, in fact, the deadly form of hemorrhagic fever.

In other words, what better time to replay our episode about “Viruses, Epidemics and Outbreaks” with guest infectious disease expert Laurie Garrett? After all, she won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting from the midst of an outbreak of Ebola, in Zaire in the mid 90s.

The Cosmic Queries episode was recorded in 2013 during two outbreaks, H7N9 influenza, which killed 25% of its victims in China, and the MERS outbreak in the Middle East. Our two episodes about the Zombie Apocalypse (which, if you listened, you know were much more about the real life epidemiological threats of which zombies are mere metaphorical echoes) were so popular, and raised so many questions among our audience, that host Neil deGrasse Tyson and co-host Chuck Nice invited Laurie Garrett back into the studio to answer them.

In the episode, Laurie explains how viruses like Ebola and HIV jump from bats and primates to humans through “zoonosis” and why they’re so lethal when they do. She also discusses a fungus that turns ants into zombies, pathogens that spread via rain, the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement, nanobot viruses, and, unfortunately, so much more: SARS, the Black Death, HIV…

It’s not exactly a comforting episode (okay, it’s downright terrifying) but it is informative. StarTalk fans like to understand how and why things happen – in this case, instead of looking to the cosmos for questions and answers, we’re focusing a little closer to home.

Cosmic Queries: Viruses, Outbreaks and Pandemics will be on our website and on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher this Sunday night, March 30, at 7:00pm ET.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

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