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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Cancer: A Man-Made Disease

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It’s been a while now, more than five years actually, that the journal Nature published the findings of a study done by two scientists affiliated with the University of Manchester, Rosalie David and Michael Zimmerman: “[i]n industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. [Studying t]he history of this disorder has the potential to improve our understanding of disease prevention, aetiology, pathogenesis and treatment. A striking rarity of malignancies in ancient physical remains might indicate that cancer was rare in antiquity, and so poses questions about the role of carcinogenic environmental factors in modern societies. Although the rarity of cancer in antiquity remains undisputed, the first published histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy demonstrates that new evidence is still forthcoming”.[1]

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A members of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences, Professor Rosalie David said that in “industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle . . . The important thing about our study is that it gives a historical perspective to this disease. We can make very clear statements on the cancer rates in societies because we have a full overview. We have looked at millennia, not one hundred years, and have masses of data”.[2] For his part, the other author and researcher Professor Zimmerman, after having carried out the first ever histological diagnosis of cancer in an ancient Egyptian mummy, added that in “an ancient society lacking surgical intervention, evidence of cancer should remain in all cases. The virtual absence of malignancies in mummies must be interpreted as indicating their rarity in antiquity, indicating that cancer causing factors are limited to societies affected by modern industrialization”.[3] David and Zimmerman ‘studied both mummified remains and literary evidence for ancient Egypt but only literary evidence for ancient Greece as there are no remains for this period, as well as medical studies of human and animal remains from earlier periods, going back to the age of the dinosaurs. Evidence of cancer in animal fossils, non-human primates and early humans is scarce – a few dozen, mostly disputed, examples in animal fossils, although a metastatic cancer of unknown primary origin has been reported in an Edmontosaurus fossil while another study lists a number of possible neoplasms in fossil remains. Various malignancies have been reported in non-human primates but do not include many of the cancers most commonly identified in modern adult humans. It has been suggested that the short life span of individuals in antiquity precluded the development of cancer. Although this statistical construct is true, individuals in ancient Egypt and Greece did live long enough to develop such diseases as atherosclerosis, Paget’s disease of bone, and osteoporosis, and, in modern populations, bone tumours primarily affect the young. Another explanation for the lack of tumours in ancient remains is that tumours might not be well preserved. Dr. Zimmerman has performed experimental studies indicating that mummification preserves the features of malignancy and that tumours should actually be better preserved than normal tissues. In spite of this finding, hundreds of mummies from all areas of the world have been examined and there are still only two publications showing microscopic confirmation of cancer. Radiological surveys of mummies from the Cairo Museum and museums in Europe have also failed to reveal evidence of cancer. As [Professors David and Zimmerman] moved through the ages, it was not until the 17th century that they found descriptions of operations for breast and other cancers and the first reports in scientific literature of distinctive tumours have only occurred in the past 200 years, such as scrotal cancer in chimney sweeps in 1775, nasal cancer in snuff users in 1761 and Hodgkin’s disease in 1832’.[4] In conclusion, Professor David declared that “[w]here there are cases of cancer in ancient Egyptian remains, we are not sure what caused them. They did heat their homes with fires, which gave off smoke, and temples burned incense, but sometimes illnesses are just thrown up. The ancient Egyptian data offers both physical and literary evidence, giving a unique opportunity to look at the diseases they had and the treatments they tried. They were the fathers of pharmacology so some treatments did work. They were very inventive and some treatments thought of as magical were genuine therapeutic remedies. For example, celery was used to treat rheumatism back then and is being investigated today. Their surgery and the binding of fractures were excellent because they knew their anatomy: there was no taboo on working with human bodies because of mummification. They were very hands on and it gave them a different mindset to working with bodies than the Greeks, who had to come to Alexandria to study medicine. Yet again extensive ancient Egyptian data, along with other data from across the millennia, has given modern society a clear message – cancer is man-made and something that we can and should address”.[5]

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[1] A. Rosalie David & Michael R. Zimmerman, “Cancer: an old disease, a new disease or something in between?” Nature (October 2010). http://www.nature.com/nrc/journal/v10/n10/full/nrc2914.html.

[2] “Scientists suggest that cancer is man-made” The University of Manchester (10 Oct 2010). http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/scientists-suggest-that-cancer-is-man-made.

[3] “Scientists suggest that cancer is man-made”.

[4] “Scientists suggest that cancer is man-made”.

[5] “Scientists suggest that cancer is man-made”.

Climate Change and Migration Patterns: Hitting the Fan

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The journal Climate Change recently published a joint article entitled “Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century”.[1] The collective of authors consists of the specialists Jos Lelieveld, Y. Proestos, P. Hadjinicolaou, M. Tanarhte, E. Tyrlis and G. Zittis. And their conclusions are dire indeed, as summarized by the journalist Matt Atherton: “Up to 500 million people living in the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] could be forced to leave their homes because of extreme heat predicted in the near future, researchers have said. A study has found that these regions will become uninhabitable by the end of the century, when temperatures of up to 50C will become the norm during the summer months”.[2] Or, if you like a more scientific wording: “We conclude that the MENA is a climate change hotspot that could turn into a scorching area in summer. There is general consent that heat extremes impact human health, contribute to the spreading of food- and water borne diseases, and that more intense heat waves increase premature mortality. In the past, climate assessments of social and economic impacts due to changing weather extremes, including consequences for human security and migration, have often focused on storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise. It is increasingly recognized that hot weather extremes cause a loss of work capacity and aggravate societal stresses, especially for disadvantaged people and vulnerable populations (IPCC 2014). We anticipate that climate change and increasing hot weather extremes in the MENA, a region subject to economic recession, political turbulence and upheaval, may exacerbate humanitarian hardship and contribute to migration”.[3]

Jos Lelieveld

Jos Lelieveld, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and co-author of the above-quoted study,  said that “[i]n future, the climate in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa could change in such a manner that the very existence of its inhabitants is in jeopardy . . . Climate change will significantly worsen the living conditions in the Middle East and in North Africa. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms can render some regions uninhabitable, which will surely contribute to the pressure to migrate”.[4] Or, if you will, the present migration crisis in Europe is but the beginning of the real crisis that will surely happen as the century moves along into the near future . . . And at this juncture, the World Bank has also just released another report: “Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP by 2050, spur migration, and spark conflict, according to a new World Bank report High and Dry: Climate Change, Water and the Economy. The combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain, the report finds, with these effects expected to be most pronounced in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia”.

 

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[1] J. Lelieveld, Y. Proestos, P. Hadjinicolaou, M. Tanarhte, E. Tyrlis & G. Zittis, “Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century” Climate Change (25 March 2016). http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-016-1665-6.

[2] Matt Atherton, “Climate change: Middle East and North Africa to become uninhabitable forcing mass migration” IBT (03 MAy 2016). http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/climate-change-middle-east-north-africa-become-uninhabitable-forcing-mass-migration-1558023.

[3] J. Lelieveld, Y. Proestos, P. Hadjinicolaou, M. Tanarhte, E. Tyrlis & G. Zittis, “Strongly increasing heat extremes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 21st century”, p. 13.

[4] Matt Atherton, “Climate change: Middle East and North Africa to become uninhabitable forcing mass migration”.

Chernobyl and Nuclear Power: 30 Years of Fallout

FRANCE_24_logo_svg’30 years ago today, a botched safety test led to the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in eastern Ukraine. France, with its 58 nuclear reactors, is particularly sensitive to this story. François Hollande reiterated a promise to close the oldest one at Fessenheim but no firm date is set. What future for atomic energy? And could the next Chernobyl be on purpose? It’s a serious question since Belgian authorities revealed that the Brussels attackers had considered targeting nuclear plants. (26 April 2016)’.

 

On a dedicated website, the IAEA presents this potted history of the impact of the Chernobyl disaster: “On 26 April 1986, the most serious accident in the history of the nuclear industry occurred at Unit 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Since that time there has been much confusion about the real consequences of the accident, including implications for health, the environment, nuclear safety, society and the economies of countries affected by the accident. In 1996 at the time of the tenth anniversary there were major reviews of the information available in an attempt to clarify and synthesise a consensus on the actual consequences of the accident. In 2000-2001, by the fifteenth anniversary, several articles books, and important publications on the topic were issued, and international reviews were prepared on lessons learned. The most comprehensive analysis on human exposures and health consequences of the Chernobyl accident, both for workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, rescue and clean-up workers and for the population of Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian areas contaminated with radionuclides, was provided by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), in its 2 000 Report to the General Assembly . . . In 2001, on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, two international scientific conferences were held in Kiev, Ukraine. The first of them, called ‘Fifteen Years after the Chernobyl Accident. Lessons Learned’ held April 18-20, 2001, discussed lessons learned from the accident in areas of nuclear and radiation safety, emergency preparedness and response, status and future of the Shelter and the exclusion zone, radiation health and environmental effects. The second conference entitled ‘Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident: Results of the 15-year follow-up Studies’, was held 4-8 June 2001, only considered the health effects of the accident, presented medical lessons learnt and developed recommendations for public health services and for future research. conclusions. During 2001-2002, the UN family organizations UNDP, WHO, OCHA, and UNICEF prepared and published, with the IAEA’s support, the UN report on The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident – a Strategy of Recovery. After a proposal made by Belarus, the IAEA initiated a project in 1995 to convene an international group of high level experts who would review the information drawn from the long term environmental and social studies of the Chernobyl accident and its consequences. The study had been monitored by an International Advisory Committee under the project management of the Institut de protection et de sûreté nucléaire (IPSN), France. The project report, based mainly on the studies carried out by experts from Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine during the period 1986-1995, was published as an IAEA TECDOC, Present and future environmental impact of the Chernobyl accident – IAEA-TECDOC-1240 (3MB). Two further projects were initiated by the IAEA in its follow-up actions designed to mitigate the impact of the accident’s consequences. The first of these was to establish the Chernobyl Forum, through which the relevant organizations within the UN system the governments of the primarily affected countries (Belarus, Russia and Ukraine) and other relevant international organisations could discuss their views on the consequences of the accident and implement, jointly or individually. The Forum was launched in February 2003, and the first Organizational Meeting was convened at the Agency headquarters in Vienna on 3-5 February 2003. The second project is the new series of Chernobyl-related technical co-operation (TC) projects with the affected countries. Through the TC Programme over US $10 million have already been disbursed since 1990 within the frame of 31 completed and ongoing projects aiming to reduce the impact of the Chernobyl accident. During 2003 the IAEA launched its new topical regional TC project (RER/9/074) on the long-term rehabilitation strategies and monitoring of human exposure in the rural areas affected by the Chernobyl accident. The IAEA will continue to support activities aiming to overcome the adverse radiological effects of the largest nuclear accident in human history as long as they are internationally recognized to be justified”.[1]

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The above-quoted verbiage appears to consist of a lot of words that indicate that the ultimate impact of Chernobyl is still hard to determine and that the process is still ongoing . . . or a project in progress, if you will.

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[1] “Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident” IAEA. http://www-ns.iaea.org/appraisals/chernobyl.asp.

The Opium Convention and Drug Control

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“On 23 January 1912, the International Opium Convention was signed in the Hague by representatives from China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Persia (Iran), Portugal, Russia, Siam (Thailand), the UK and the British oversees territories (including British India). Three years later, it entered into force in five countries. The Convention gained, however, near-universal adherence after 1919 when all the countries signing the Peace Treaties of Versailles, St. Germain-en-Laye etc. also became party to the International Opium Convention. Thus by the mid 1920s close to 60 countries had – de jure – signed and ratified the Hague treaty and this number increased to 67 by 1949. The International Opium convention consisted of six chapters and 25 articles. In addition to opium and morphine, which were already under extensive international discussion, the Hague Convention also included two new substances that had become problematic: cocaine and heroin. Cocaine was first isolated by the German chemist Albert Niemann in 1860, and rapidly gained popularity for both medical and recreational use. Heroin was a relatively new drug at the time of the Hague Convention, as it had only become available as a pharmaceutical product in 1898. Ironically, it was originally marketed as a non-addictive alternative to morphine, which was proving problematic in many areas. The 1912 Convention was far from perfect, but it contained many elements of a comprehensive drug control treaty. Moreover, as an official declaration on the dangerous practices of opium smoking and the non-medical trade in opium and other drugs, it had value as an advocacy tool. It also inspired national drug control legislation, such as the 1913 Harrison Act in the United States, the foundation of U.S. drug law in the 20th century”.[1]

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In 1925, an upgraded International Opium Convention is passed, extending its scope to cannabis. In 1931, the Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs aims to restrict the supply of narcotic drugs to amounts needed for medical and scientific purposes. In 1936, the Convention for the Suppression of the Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs becomes the first international instrument to make certain drug offences international crimes. Ten years later, in 1946, International drug control transferred from the League of Nations to the newly created United Nations (UN). The UN Economic and Social Council establishes the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) as the central policy-making body of the UN in drug-related matters. In 1948, the Synthetic Narcotics Protocol comes into force, placing a series of new substances under international control. In 1953, the Opium Protocol is signed, limiting opium production and trade to medical and scientific needs. In 1961, the cornerstone of today’s international drug control regime, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs is adopted, merging existing drug control agreements. The Single Convention lists all controlled substances and creates the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). Another ten years later, in 1971, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances is passed in response to increased use of these drugs in several countries. In 1972, the Single Convention is amended by a Protocol to underscore the need to provide adequate prevention, treatment and rehabilitation services. In 1988, the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances is passed to cope with the security threat posed by drug trafficking in a number of regions. In 1991, the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) is established in Vienna. In 1998, Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) to strengthen Member States’ efforts to reduce demand and supply of drugs. In 2002, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) adopts its current name. In 2003, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime comes into force, strengthening international capacity to counter organized crime, including drug trafficking.[2]

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[1] “The 1912 Hague International Opium Convention” UNODC. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/frontpage/the-1912-hague-international-opium-convention.html.

[2] “Chronology:100 years of drug control” UNODC. https://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2008/timeline_E_PRINT.pdf.

Airborne Ebola Contamination: Another Conspiracy Theory???

The BBC article referred to in the above video — “Growing concerns over ‘in the air’ transmission of Ebola” — was published on 16 November 2012. At the time another Ebola outbreak was happening, an outbreak I dealt with at the time (check out the footnote).[1] Written by the BBC Science reporter Matt McGrath, the piece ends by stating that “[o]ther experts in the field were concerned about the idea that Ebola was susceptible to being transmitted by air even if the distance the virus could travel was limited. Dr Larry Zeitlin is the president of Mapp Biopharmaceuticals” ‘It’s an impressive study that not only raises questions about the reservoir of Ebola in the wild, but more importantly elevates concerns about ebola as a public health threat’, he told BBC News. ‘The thought of airborne transmission is pretty frightening’. At present [late November 2012], an outbreak of ebola in Uganda has killed at least two people near the capital Kampala. Last month, Uganda declared itself Ebola-free after an earlier outbreak of the disease killed at least sixteen people in the west of the country”.[2]

But Dr Kobinger was talking about “Ebola Reston”, which was discovered in Reston, Virginia in 1990; and the 1994 non-fiction thriller The Hot Zone by Richard Preston outlines the virus’ story in great detail . . . And, the original Reston facility involved in the incident, located at 1946 Isaac Newton Square, was subsequently torn down sometime between 1995 and 1998, as indicated by the good folks of Wikipedia.[3] But arguable more important is the fact that the Reston outbreak did not result in any human fatalities, or, “no humans died in the process of writing this book”, Preston could have added as a blurb. In other words, that particular airborne strain of the Ebola virus does not affect humans . . . Still, Dean Garrison, on the blog D.C. Clothesline, argues that it “would [not] seem [hard] to reason that if a strain of Ebola that is benign to humans can develop, then a malignant strain could mutate and develop as well. So is the Zaire strain of the Ebola Virus only transmissible through close contact and the exchange of bodily fluids? A Canadian research team seems to have disproved that in 2012. Like anything else in science, the research is evolving and rarely set in stone. But the virus may be evolving as well”.[4]

 

 

[1] “Uganda’s 2012 Ebola Outbreak” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (06 August 2012). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/ugandas-2012-ebola-outbreak/.

[2] Matt McGrath, “Growing concerns over ‘in the air’ transmission of Ebola” BBC News (16 November 2012). http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-20341423.

[3] “The Hot Zone” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hot_Zone.

[4] Dean Garrison, “’Ebola is Not an Airborne Disease’. Don’t Bet Your Life on It!” D.C. Clothesline (02 August 2014). http://www.dcclothesline.com/2014/08/02/ebola-airborne-disease-dont-bet-life/.

Ebola Update 29 August 2014

‘Here are three things you need to know about the deadly Ebola outbreak’s progression this week (29 August 2014)’.

‘Hala Gorani speaks to Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, about the ongoing epidemic and when it might end (28 August 2014)’

Ebola Outbreak: From West Africa to the Rest of the World???

The news agency Reuters‘ Derick Snyder and Daniel Flynn write that “[h]ealth workers in West Africa appealed on [6 August 2014] for urgent help in controlling the world’s worst Ebola outbreak as the death toll climbed to 932 and Liberia shut a major hospital where several staff were infected, including a Spanish priest. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would ask medical ethics experts to explore the emergency use of experimental treatments to tackle the highly contagious disease after a trial drug was given to two U.S. charity workers infected in Liberia. With West Africa’s rudimentary healthcare systems swamped, 45 new deaths from Ebola were reported in the three days to Aug. 4, the WHO said. Liberia and Sierra Leone have deployed troops in the worst-hit areas in their remote border region to try to stem the spread of the virus, for which there is no known cure”.[1]

As I originally posted about two years ago: “The website Prime Health Channel informs us that the ‘period of incubation for ebola virus hemorrhagic fever is usually 5 to 18 days but may extend from 2 to 21 days depending on the type of virus that one contracts. The Ebola virus symptoms hemorrhagic disease that is generally noticed in individuals contracting the viral disease are high fever, nausea and vomiting, headache, muscular pain, malaise, inflammation of the pharynx, and diarrhea accompanied with bloody discharge, and the development of maculopapular rashes along with bleeding at other body orifices. Besides these, abdominal pain, joint pain, chest pain, coagulopathy, hiccups, low blood pressure, sclerotic arterioles, purpura, petechia are the other symptoms that are particular to the species of Zaire ebola virus and Sudan ebola virus. This kind of reference to these two particular species of virus is due to the fact that the other three species of ebola virus are either non–pathogenic to human beings or have very few cases to facilitate the detection of its symptoms’”.[2]

Now back to today, August 2014, and Snyder and Flynn continue that the “[i]nternational alarm at the diffusion of the virus increased when a U.S. citizen died in Nigeria last month after flying there from Liberia. Authorities said on [6 August 2014] that a Nigerian nurse who had treated Patrick Sawyer had also died of Ebola, and five other people were being treated in an isolation ward in Lagos, Africa’s largest city. With doctors on strike, Lagos health commissioner Jide Idris said volunteers were urgently needed to track 70 people who came into contact with Sawyer. Only 27 have so far been traced . . . U.S. health regulators on [6 August 2014] authorized an Ebola diagnostic test developed by the Pentagon for use abroad on military personnel, aid workers and emergency responders in laboratories designated to help contain the outbreak. The test is designed for use on people who have symptoms of Ebola infection, are at risk or may have been exposed to the virus. It can take as long as 21 days for symptoms to appear after infection. In Saudi Arabia, a man suspected of contracting Ebola during a recent business trip to Sierra Leone also died early on [6 August 2014] in Jeddah, the Health Ministry said. Saudi Arabia has already suspended pilgrimage visas from West African countries, which could prevent those hoping to visit Mecca for the haj in early October [2014]. Liberia, where the death toll is rising fastest, is struggling to cope. Many residents are panicking, in some cases casting out bodies onto the streets of Monrovia to avoid quarantine measures, officials said”.[3]

USA Today‘s Doug Stanglin reports that the “U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued its highest-level alert for a response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. “Ops Center moved to Level 1 response to given the extension to Nigeria & potential to affect many lives,” CDC chief Tom Frieden said [6 August 2014] on Twitter. Level 1 means that increased staff and resources will be devoted to the outbreak, officials said. It is the first time the agency has invoked its highest level alert since 2009, over a flu outbreak. Meantime, a Nigerian nurse who had treated the country’s first fatality from Ebola two weeks ago has died from the virus that has now claimed more than 900 lives in the latest outbreak, Nigerian health officials said. The World Health Organization, which convened a two-day emergency meeting of global health workers to discuss the crisis in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, said [on 6 August 2014] that the death toll had jumped to 932, an increase of 45 fatalities in just four days. Next week, the WHO will convene a panel of medical ethicists to explore the use of experimental treatment in the latest outbreak in West Africa”.[4]

 

[1] Derick Snyder and Daniel Flynn, “West African healthcare systems reel as Ebola toll hits 932”Reuters (06 August 2014). http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/06/us-health-ebola-idUSKBN0G61ID20140806.

[2] “Uganda’s 2012 Ebola Outbreak” A Pseudo-Ottoman Blog (06 August 2013). https://sitanbul.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/ugandas-2012-ebola-outbreak/.

[3] Derick Snyder and Daniel Flynn, “West African healthcare systems reel as Ebola toll hits 932”.

[4] Doug Stanglin, “CDC issues highest-level alert for Ebola” USA Today (06 August 2014). http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/08/06/ebola-nigeria-saudi-arabia-virus-death-toll/13663973/.