Monday, July 16, 2012

Holy Shit, disease eradication!

SmallpoxHave you ever known anyone with smallpox? No? Guess why? Because scientists got together, took a hard look at it, and said, "Nuh uh. Fuck that noise." They then embarked on a ridiculous campaign of purposely causing the utter extinction of a disease that had plagued mankind for tens of thousands of years. Just like that. As if it weren't enough that we developed vaccines that keep us from needing to worry about polio and measles anymore, not to mention antibiotics that dramatically reduce our chances of dying from infections.

Still, that was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, right? It only happened once, to one disease, and that was way back in the 1970s. Right? Wrong. Last year, scientists went ahead and put the kibosh on rinderpest, a viral disease that affected cattle. 2 down, and I'd tell you how many to go but I have no idea.

But wait, there's more! The Carter Center, led by former peanut farmer Jimmy Carter (you may be more familiar with his political work), led a campaign of education and water filtration in Africa. As a result, the Guinea worm parasite is on its last leg. Over the past two decades, reported cases have dropped a staggering 99% to just over 1,000 last year. That number is expected to reach 0 within a year or two.

There are potential downsides to eliminating diseases, but we'll talk about those next time. For now, let's just focus on the sheer gravity of the fact that we, as a species, looked at a few other species and said, "No. This shall not be." Then we followed through. The first two words of the Wikipedia article for smallpox are "Smallpox was..."

Holy shit.

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