For those of you who know me, you probably know that my favourite virus is Ebola. It’s actually the whole reason that I got into microbiology and virology in the first place! Waaaaaaay back when I was but a wee tot in middle school I was pretty sure that I hated science. Yup, I was pretty damn sure that I would be a writer (or possibly a historian) and used to practice my craft by drafting extremely creative and original short stories on my type writer with such titles as “The Day I Shrunk” and “Edward Swordhands” (I’ve always had the uncanny ability to come up with completely new concepts all by myself with no outside influence whatsoever). It wasn’t until about half way through high school that my interests changed.
A couple things converged to make me choose microbiology as my major when it came time to apply to university. First, I became disillusioned with writing when I got an English teacher who gave me grades under 90% (how dare he?! Did he know I was going to be a writer?!). Second, as my sciences classes split off into physics, chemistry and biology it dawned on me that only physics was super lame, chemistry was tolerable and biology was actually pretty cool! And finally, the 1997 Ebola outbreak in Zaire happened.
Although the first outbreak had occurred in 1976, this new outbreak captured the media and for a time, Ebola was everywhere. It completely captivated me. I couldn’t get enough of the documentaries shown on tv and even kept a scrap book of newspaper clippings from my local paper! I even wrote an “Ode to Ebola” that I can still vaguely remember (“When first you appeared in Kinshasa Zaire, your killing efficiency realized our worst fear” – perhaps I was right to avoid being an English major). It was the first time I had ever really thought about viruses and it suddenly dawned on me that they were insanely interesting. How could something so simple and small completely wreak havoc on us?!
I applied to microbiology programs with the eventual goal of being an Ebola Buster. Basically, I imagined myself as a virus hunter as they’re portrayed on tv. Now I have a PhD in microbiology and am a postdoc in a virology lab studying viruses that are nowhere near as exciting as Ebola to the general public. When I look back on my career path I think I’ve followed a much more direct line than many people, but why not study Ebola? Basically, when it came time to actually apply for jobs I realized that I am far too prone to bumping into things, knocking things over, spilling things, etc. to work in a BL4 lab. I’m pretty sure I’d actually kill myself one day at work. I think high school me would still think it’s pretty cool that I study viruses though.
I’ve tried kept my Ebola ties even though my research has taken me elsewhere. Whenever I see a notice for a talk about Ebola I make sure to attend, and even dragged my lab to Reston, VA (where the only outbreak in the US occurred) when we were nearby for a conference. I think my Ebola obsession has spawned my interest in zombies as well. Part of what captivated me when I was younger was the doomsday scenario of an airborne virus with Ebola’s mortality rate, and to this day I still love apocalyptic movies and books.
But I digress, the whole reason I got thinking about all this in the first place was because there have been new Ebola cases in Uganda! Two weeks ago a girl passed away after being brought to hospital and 3 more cases have appeared since then. I’ll be on outbreak watch and keep you up to date if this goes full blown. Or, more likely it’ll recede mysteriously back into the jungle until next time…..mwah ha ha ha!!!!