FILE – In this Aug. 7, 2014 file photo provided by the Spanish Defense Ministry, aid workers and doctors transfer Miguel Pajares, a Spanish priest who was infected with the Ebola virus while working in Liberia, from a plane to an ambulance as he leaves the Torrejon de Ardoz military airbase, near Madrid, Spain. Comparisons between Ebola and AIDS have surfaced in mid-2014 as the Ebola outbreak escalated. But Ebola is not expected to ever be in the same league as AIDS in terms of infections and deaths, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Spanish Defense Ministry, File)
Mike Stobbe reporting,
NEW YORK (AP) — Is Ebola the world’s worst infectious disease threat since AIDS?
Comparisons between the two deadly diseases surfaced in the last few months as the Ebola outbreak escalated. Both emerged from Africa and erupted into an international health crisis. And both have been a shocking reminder that mankind’s battle against infectious diseases can take a sudden, terrible turn for the worse.
In his three decades in public health, the only thing like Ebola has been the AIDS epidemic, said Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“And we have to work now so this is not the world’s next AIDS,” he told a meeting of the world’s economic leaders in Washington last week.
But Ebola is not expected to ever be in the same league as AIDS in terms of infections and deaths, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
“There is no one that imagines that we’re going to see tens of millions of people infected with Ebola,” said Fauci, a longtime leader in the fight against AIDS.
This year’s Ebola outbreak — the largest ever — has killed more than 4,500 people in West Africa. AIDS kills more than a million per year on the continent.
Both diseases are caused by viruses and spread through contact with bodily fluids, not the air, but health experts say the epidemics are more different than they are similar.
Ebola can be more infectious than HIV, according to Dr. Bruce Ribner, a physician involved in the care of four Ebola patients treated so far at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Indeed, a patient in the throes of Ebola can have 10 billion viral particles in a fifth of a teaspoon of blood — far more than the 50,000 to 100,000 particles seen in an untreated patient with the AIDS virus. Even the skin of an Ebola patient can be crawling with the virus, according to Ribner.
Still, there are reasons to be more optimistic about Ebola than about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Ebola was actually discovered before HIV. First identified in 1976 and named after a river in Congo, the virus has caused periodic outbreaks in Africa ever since. While a test was made to diagnose it, work on vaccines and treatments has been limited and difficult.
Ebola did not become an international epidemic until this year, when it unexpectedly mushroomed in West Africa. The rapid increase in cases — particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone — led to the CDC’s worst-case-scenario estimate that there could be as many as 1.4 million cases in those two countries alone by January.
But at least scientists had a running start against Ebola.
The beginning of the AIDS epidemic was more challenging. When clusters of cases were first reported in 1981, health officials were facing a mysterious illness with no known cause.
FILE – In this Thursday, July 5, 2012 file photo, people visit the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington. Comparisons between Ebola and AIDS have surfaced in mid-2014 as the Ebola outbreak escalated. But Ebola is not expected to ever be in the same league as AIDS in terms of infections and deaths, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
“We didn’t know it was a virus. We had no idea what was going on,” recalled David Celentano, who was a young AIDS researcher in the 1980s and is now at Johns Hopkins University’s school of public health.
Scientists did not isolate HIV until a couple of years later. A test for the virus wasn’t available until 1985. There’s still no vaccine, but medications have allowed those infected to live longer and healthier lives.
In those first few years, AIDS was generally perceived as occurring mainly in gay men, intravenous drug users and Haitians who had recently entered the United States.
“There was kind of a sense that ‘it’s only happening in certain places, and it only happens to certain people,'” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a Columbia University professor who as a young physician treated AIDS patients in New York City.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s when public anxiety and fear about the disease in the U.S. really began to reach the levels seen today with Ebola. In 1985, an Indiana school barred a boy with hemophilia named Ryan White because he was infected through a blood transfusion. Later that year, a national poll showed more than half of Americans favored the quarantining of AIDS patients and 15 percent supported tattooing people who had AIDS.
Beginning in 1987, HIV-positive travelers were banned from entering the country. The rule was changed in January 2010.
Public anxiety about Ebola took flight in the last month with the first case diagnosed in the U.S. in a man who traveled to Dallas from Liberia. In the Dallas area, attendance dropped at schools where children attended who had reportedly been in contact with the man, Thomas Eric Duncan. At the CDC, calls and emails to the federal health agency spiked to more than 800 from a few dozen daily asking questions about the disease.
This past week, screening of travelers from West Africa began at five U.S. airports.
The international response also has been accelerated with Ebola, compared to AIDS. The United Nation’s UNAIDS program didn’t begin until 1995. Some experts feel real momentum in the international campaign didn’t occur until 2000.
The Ebola response also has been faulted as dangerously slow, but it’s been much faster than what happened with AIDS. In the last month — about six months after the epidemic in West Africa first began — officials from the United State and other nations have met to ratchet up an international response with money, troops and supplies.
There’s one more big difference that ironically makes Ebola more dreadful to many people but possibly easier for health workers to one day beat back, said Dr. James Curran, dean of Emory University’s school of public health.
The scariest thing about the Ebola virus is how quickly and dramatically it kills. Initial infection to ghastly death is only a matter of weeks.
That’s different from HIV: An HIV-infected person may not have symptoms for years. And a decade may pass before an untreated AIDS victim dies. That means infected people can silently and unknowingly spread the infection for years.
HIV “is insidious,” said Curran, who led the CDC’s task force on AIDS in the mid-1980s.
Ebola’s speed is more terrifying. But it also allows cases to be identified and isolated and contacts to be tracked down and monitored before they can continue to spread the disease.
“It potentially gives us a way to break the back of the epidemic,” Curran said.
(Associated Press video producer Cindy Sharp in Washington contributed to this report).
The Associated Press.
BERLIN (AP) — German prosecutors say they’ve arrested two men suspected of supporting the Islamic State group and searched the homes of several others.
Federal prosecutors said the two were arrested Saturday in the western city of Aachen. They were identified only as Tunisian citizen Kamel Ben Yahia S. and Russian national Yusup G. because of German privacy rules.
The Tunisian is accused of providing clothing worth over 1,100 euros ($1,400) and 3,400 euros in cash to IS, and smuggling a 17-year-old boy from Germany to Syria to join it. The Russian is accused of participating in the smuggling.
Six others suspected of helping them had their homes searched. One was temporarily detained.
Prosecutors say they searched the homes of seven more people suspected of supporting Ahrar al-Sham, an ultraconservative Syrian rebel group.
Afghans look inside a civilian vehicle that was damaged in a roadside bombing, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. The Afghan interior ministry said that several Afghan civilians have been killed and wounded in the bomb blast in the western part of the country’s capital. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An official says that at least three Afghan security force troops have been killed in a suicide car bombing in southern Afghanistan.
Police commander Ghulam Sakhi Ghafori says two Afghan police officers and one soldier were killed Saturday in the attack in Helmand province.
He says six others, including one civilian and five soldiers, were wounded in the attack, which occurred on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban have step up their attacks against both Afghan and foreign forces across the country as most international troops are preparing to withdraw at the end the year.
The Associated Press.
LONDON (AP) — Families of two British aid workers killed by the Islamic State group in Syria on Saturday urged people of all faiths to unite against the militants’ “hateful acts.”
In a letter published in the Guardian newspaper, Barbara Henning and Michael Haines urged everyone “to find a single act of unity — one simple gesture, one act, one moment — that draws people together.”
They said that “we will not allow the actions of a few people to undermine the unity of people of all faiths in our society. … Together we have the power to defeat the most hateful acts.”
Barbara Henning’s husband Alan and Michael Haines’ brother David are two of the Western hostages beheaded on IS propaganda videos.
A memorial service is being held for Haines Saturday in his hometown of Perth, Scotland. The 44-year old former air force engineer was working for the ACTED agency helping refugees from the Syrian civil war when he was abducted in March 2013 near the Turkish border.
In a video message released before the service, Michael Haines remembered his brother as “a man full of kindness, open and caring, willing to cross the road to help others.”
The militants have also killed U.S. reporter James Foley and American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff, and threatened another American, Abdul-Rahman Kassig. The group also holds British photojournalist John Cantlie.
In this Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 photo, Hamza Hommos, 55, father of Lebanese policeman Wael Hommos, who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants and the Nusra Front, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in front of his tent set up for their sit-in protest in downtown Beirut, Lebanon. With all eyes on the Islamic State group’s onslaught in Iraq and Syria, a less conspicuous but potentially just as explosive frontline with the extremists is emerging in Lebanon, where Lebanese soldiers and Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas are increasingly pulled into deadly fighting with the Sunni militants along the country’s border with Syria. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
BEIRUT (AP) — With all eyes on the Islamic State group’s onslaught in Iraq and Syria, a less conspicuous but potentially just as explosive front line with the extremists is emerging in Lebanon, where Lebanese soldiers and Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas are increasingly pulled into deadly fighting with the Sunni militants along the country’s border with Syria.
The U.S. has been speeding up delivery of small ammunition to shore up Lebanon’s army, but recent cross-border attacks and beheading of Lebanese soldiers by Islamic State fighters — and the defection of four others to the extremists — has sent shockwaves across this Mediterranean country, eliciting fear of a potential slide into the kind of militant, sectarian violence afflicting both Syria and Iraq, and increasingly prompting minorities to take up arms.
The crisis was slow in coming.
For long, Lebanon managed to miraculously avoid the all-out chaos gripping neighboring countries — despite sporadic street clashes and car bombings, and despite being awash with weapons and taking in an endless stream of refugees from Syria who now constitute a staggering one third of its population of 4.5 million people.
Unlike in Syria or Iraq, the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group does not hold territory in Lebanon. But along with Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front, it has established footholds in remote mountains along Lebanon’s remote eastern border, from where it launches almost daily incursions further afield.
FILE – In the Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 file photo, gunmen drive away with about a dozen men, two in camouflage police uniforms, in Arsal, a Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon. The IS threat first came to Lebanon in August, two months after the group’s summer blitz in which it seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. In a surprise attack, IS and Nusra Front militants crossed over from Syria and overran the predominantly Sunni Lebanese border town of Arsal, hitting Lebanese army positions and killing nearly 20 soldiers. (AP Photo, File)
Jihadi recruitment in impoverished Sunni areas of northern Lebanon is on the rise, and black Islamic State group flags fly freely in some areas, reflecting pockets of growing support for the radical group.
“Lebanon is in the eye of the storm,” said Fadia Kiwan, a political science professor at Beirut’s St. Joseph University.
The Lebanese are bitterly divided over Syria’s civil war. Hezbollah fighters have gone to join Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in their battle against Sunni rebels, drawing anger at home from Lebanon’s Sunnis and stoking Sunni-Shiite tensions. This in turn led to tit-for-tat suicide bombings and several rounds of street clashes in Lebanon in the past year.
The Islamic State group threat first came to Lebanon in August, two months after the group’s summer blitz in which it seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. In a surprise attack, Islamic State group and Nusra Front militants crossed over from Syria and overran the predominantly Sunni Lebanese border town of Arsal, hitting Lebanese army positions and killing nearly 20 soldiers.
After weeklong clashes, the militants pulled back to mountain caves near Syria’s border, taking more than 20 Lebanese soldiers and policemen with them.
Islamic State fighters have since beheaded two Lebanese soldiers. Nusra Front militants have shot dead a third. In return for remaining hostages, they have issued various demands, including the withdrawal of Hezbollah troops from Syria, and the release of Islamists from Lebanese prisons.
Lebanese army commander Jean Kahwaji said in comments published this week that the militants from Syria want to ignite civil war and create a passage to Lebanon’s coastline by linking the Syrian Qalamoun mountains with Arsal on the border and the northern Lebanese town of Akkar, an impoverished Sunni area.
Analysts agree that in Lebanon, the Islamic State group fighters also see an opportunity to strike at Hezbollah’s patron, the Shiite powerhouse Iran but that they are not too eager to immediately embark on yet another war.
“The territory of Lebanon is a longer-term goal,” said David Schenker, director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
But there are fears that eventually, Schenker said, the Islamic State group could stage a spectacular bombing of, for example, the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahyeh south of Beirut, recreating an incident similar to a 2006 attack in the Iraqi city of Samarra, and “unleash this incredible sectarian tension that results in a resumption of civil war.”
FILE – In this Monday, Aug. 4, 2014 file photo, Lebanese army reinforcements arrive to the outskirts of Arsal, a predominantly Sunni Muslim town near the Syrian border in eastern Lebanon. Lebanese army commander Jean Kahwaji said in comments published this week of October that the militants from Syria want to ignite civil war and create a passage to Lebanon’s coastline by linking the Syrian Qalamoun mountains with Arsal on the border and the northern Lebanese town of Akkar, an impoverished Sunni area. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)
In Samarra, the Sunni extremists bombed a major Shiite shrine, setting in motion two years of sectarian bloodletting that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war. Lebanon is still recovering from a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
The global war against Islamic State group and its attacks in Lebanon have somewhat bolstered Hezbollah’s narrative that its intervention in Syria was necessary to ward off a Sunni extremist threat to Lebanon.
Paradoxically, it has brought Hezbollah closer to Christians and other Lebanese minorities through their shared fear of the Sunni militants. But the Lebanese Shiite group is hated by most Lebanese Sunnis, many of whom refer to Hezbollah as the “Party of Satan” — a dark play on Hezbollah’s name, which in English means “Party of God.”
In addition to being bogged down in the fighting in Syria, Hezbollah is increasingly embroiled in clashes inside Lebanon. In an unprecedented attack, Nusra Front fighters overran positions manned by Hezbollah along the Syrian border last week, killing eight of its fighters in battles that lasted several hours.
“Such attacks not only erode the stature of Hezbollah, they show it to be vulnerable. I think in the long run or as the months go by we’re going to see more and more of this,” Schenker said.
In a rare excursion outside his underground bunkers, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah traveled to the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon last week to meet his fighters, Hezbollah official Mohammad Afif said — an apparent move to boost their morale.
“Hezbollah entered a battle that is bigger than Lebanon,” said Kiwan, the political science professor. “Today, Hezbollah is obliged to continue in the battle that it started.”
Along with the Lebanese army, Hezbollah is fighting almost daily incursions by Islamic State group militants in Bekaa, prompting accusations that the army is collaborating with the Shiite guerrilla against the Lebanese Sunnis, placing the army in the thick of the Sunni-Shiite confrontation.
Adding to the deadly mix, four Lebanese soldiers, all Sunnis from north Lebanon, have deserted from the army and joined either the IS or the Nusra Front since July.
File – In this Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014 file photo, a Lebanese Sunni gunman, right, waves his AK-47, as mourners carry the coffin of Lebanese Sgt. Ali Sayid during the funeral procession in his home town of Fnaydek in Akkar, northern Lebanon. Sgt. Sayid was beheaded by Islamic militants. With all eyes on the Islamic State group’s onslaught in Iraq and Syria, a less conspicuous but potentially just as explosive frontline with the extremists is emerging in Lebanon, where Lebanese soldiers and Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas are increasingly pulled into deadly fighting with the Sunni militants along the country’s border with Syria. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
One of the deserters, Abdallah Shehadeh, said in a video posted online by Nusra Front this week that he had initially “enlisted in the army to defend the Lebanese people” — only to find that the army is a “Hezbollah tool.”
Though a handful of desertions do not pose an imminent risk to the stature of Lebanon’s military, such publicized statements may eventually hurt it and make the recruitment of Sunni conscripts more difficult, analysts say.
Because of the Lebanese Sunni-Shiite divisions and the pro- and anti-Assad split, the civil war in Syria has completely paralyzed the government in Beirut. Lebanon has been without a president since May, and parliament is set to postpone elections for the second time, ostensibly because the security situation makes it impossible to hold a vote.
Moreover, the government faces escalating protests by families of the captive soldiers and policemen who have blocked roads and set up protest tents, including several pitched last week near the government building that blocked traffic in Beirut’s commercial center. They families accuse the government of not doing enough to secure the freedom of their loved ones.
“We hope that the state (of Lebanon) will do something that restores its dignity,” said Layal Dirani, the sister of policeman Suleiman Dirani, who was taken captive by the Nusra Front on Aug. 2.