The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday, Sept 30th, 2014, the first "wild" case of Ebola in the United States, distinguished from those cases of infected individuals purposely brought here for treatment in a very controlled manner. The uncontrolled case, Thomas Eric Duncan, means that others may have been in contact with the individual over the course of several days and thus more cases are possible. An infectious dose is just 1-10 organisms and the incubation period is between two and 21 days, so it could be a couple of weeks before we know the extent of the current outbreak, if there is one. Texas health officials have said that the infected patient is known to have been in contact with as many as 100 other individuals, although there is no knowledge how many, if any, were actually infected as a result, and whether any who were infected may have infected anyone else. 48 individuals are being monitored after having contact with Duncan. All of them are asymptomatic as of October 14th and the CDC will consider them not infected if they don't show symptoms by October 20th. People don't become infectious until they start showing signs of sickness such as coughing, so it's possible to stop it from spreading if caught early enough.
Patient Thomas Eric Duncan died on 10/8/2014, ten days after being diagnosed and about three weeks after initial exposure. A nurse, 26-year-old Nina Pham, who treated Duncan, was diagnosed 10/11/2014 despite wearing protective clothing during her interactions with him. A second nurse, Amber Vinson, 29, who also treated Duncan, was diagnosed with Ebola on 10/14/2014, but not before flying on a commercial airliner to Cleveland, OH, on October 10th, and back to Dallas on October 13th. She had a 99.5° F fever before boarding her flight, which is a symptom indicating possible contagiousness, although she was not otherwise symptomatic. The CDC wants to interview all 132 passengers who were on the plane with her. Also, seventy-five health care workers in Dallas are being monitored for any Ebola symptoms due to the apparent lack of protocols in treating Duncan. So far, other scares at Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., a jail in Cobb County, GA, and elsewhere, have not resulted in an Ebola diagnosis. However, international air travel continues as does less traditional travel routes, including undocumented West African immigrants traveling through Central America up into the United States, as detailed by head of U.S. Southern Command, General John Kelly.
In the worst case scenario, enough people would have been infected in one of these cases to start a true pandemic in this country, which is an uncontrollable transmission from person to person beyond any capacity for containment. Certainly that is still a very real possibility, as the general points out. I've seen plenty of level-headed people and government spokespeople alike say "don't panic" in response to this, which is probably good advice. Don't run around like a chicken with its head cut off opining about the end of the world! In fact, people rarely panic about these things. More often than not, they're far too calm about them actually. We're exposed to so many threats today which rarely impact us directly that we're cynical about any of them, no matter how likely or severe they might be. Even if the government knew for a fact that a pandemic was brewing, they'd still tell you not to panic, and by and large, nobody would. But preparing is not panicking, it is almost the opposite of panicking. It is being prudent about being able to handle a worst case scenario should it occur. And since the government will never release information that might "incite a panic", we don't even know how likely that is. Ironically, by trying to hide information from people and overly reassuring them, the government is actually setting the stage for a panic later when people realize that there's actually something going on that's out of control and they're not ready for it.
Don't let fear of appearing to be panicking prevent you from preparing. Being prepared can help to keep you from actually panicking if things should take a turn for the worse. Governments are preparing. International SOS, governments, and other organizations recommend that corporations have an Ebola response plan. But you are told not to panic, that the government will protect us from everything. The head of the CDC said he was absolutely positive they could stop this thing in its tracks without even knowing how many people had been infected. Seems like an overly optimistic statement meant only to prevent panic. But if governments and corporations are all preparing, then why shouldn't you? Given our previous experience with government disaster response (or lack thereof), e.g. Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy, I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that most people will be entirely on their own if we do find ourselves involved in a major pandemic. Or perhaps worse, you might end up in the equivalent of the New Orleans Superdome, albeit filled with people bleeding out of their eyes! So what should you do to prepare? Let me preface this by saying that I'm not a doctor, but these are my well-researched and logically reasoned recommendations.
HOW TO PREVENT EBOLA INFECTION
Physical distance or barriers to the disease are the only real way to prevent infection, but only the second best disease prevention method. I say "second best" because implementing these may be too late into the pandemic if you don't want to "look funny" or live like a hermit when nobody else is preparing yet. While your state of health is irrelevant (with regard to infection) if you remain far removed from the infectious agent, it's probably not something you can significantly control. Fear of being mocked because of over-preparation or appearance of panicking will most likely keep most people from doing things to be physically protected -- such as wearing a mask -- until it's too late. Even seemingly common-sense precautions like governments stopping or quarantining flights from pandemic countries are not being done, presumably so as not to incite panic. So the first line of defense is good health and immunity; the second is physical distance or barriers to the disease. (Update: As of 10/8/2014, travelers arriving from West Africa will now be screened in five American airports handling 94% of travelers from that part of the world. They will have their temperature taken and must fill out a questionnaire. But there is no quarantine to see if a fever or other symptoms develop later.)
Nonetheless, let's discuss infection avoidance first. One physical routine that you can practice to provide a barrier to infection without anyone really noticing is good hand-washing and other hygiene habits. If you were to pick up some fomites (infectious particles) on your hands as a result of touching some surface such as a hand rail or door knob previously touched by an infected person who had coughed or sneezed into their hands, then you won't necessarily be infected by it unless you transfer it to some mucus membrane such as your eyes, nose, or mouth. Washing and sanitizing your hands and disinfecting your home and any public toilets you sit on will help to prevent being infected from such casual contact. So stock up on plenty of hand sanitizer, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and other disinfecting agents, and get into the habit of using them. You won't find anyone sneering at this kind of precaution even if they see you doing it.
Once a pandemic is officially declared, then people will start being comfortable with more overt physical defenses. In fact, at that point, being cavalier about disease transmission will be mocked instead. This change in public perception can turn on a dime and is what we generally refer to as panic. Having plenty of N95 or better masks and nitrile gloves available for interacting with an infected public means stocking up on these things now before everyone panics and empties the shelves of them. And when I say "interacting", I don't necessarily mean volunteering at a hospital or shelter per se, but just traveling on public transit, going to the store, walking down the street, etc. You should wear nitrile gloves, a mask, and protective goggles (rated for aerosol chemicals) at a minimum whenever out in public. Any open wounds, cuts, or scratches should be covered in waterproof dressings such as liquid bandage (superglue). The main mode of transmission is through direct transfer of bodily fluids from an infected person, but the virus does exist for up to 24 hours or even possibly longer in the right conditions on surfaces such as doorknobs. The virus is not completely airborne as it cannot survive as a spore floating on its own, but airborne spread via aerosolized droplets over short distances is strongly suspected. Nationally recognized experts at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) wrote: "We believe there is scientific and epidemiologic evidence that Ebola virus has the potential to be transmitted via infectious aerosol particles both near and at a distance from infected patients." They further recommended that people wear powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR) rather than facemasks if possible, although these are rather expensive for the average family. A few steps up from an N95 mask and a few steps below a PAPR respirator would be a half facepiece reusable respirator, which is very affordable and offers decent protection when paired with appropriate goggles.
Avoiding public contact at all -- once a pandemic is confirmed -- is the best bet. So stock up on supplies now, in advance of a pandemic, so that you don't need to go shopping at all. I.e. keep several months worth of food and other necessities on hand. Have resources on hand at home to allow you to work online and school your children from home if possible so that life can continue with as little interruption as possible while still taking precautions against infection. The very young and very old are especially vulnerable and should be kept at home in the event of a confirmed pandemic. If at all possible, no more than one family member should be designated to leave the house when absolutely necessary so that multiple infections can't happen at the same time. If anyone close to you dies from Ebola, they should not have a funeral, and if they do, you should not attend.
You should plan for some system of airlocking the entrance to your home (e.g. in a foyer or mud room or attached garage) such that anyone who enters -- once a pandemic is confirmed -- must remove their clothing and wash completely in the airlocked area before proceeding to the rest of the house. This is known as biocontainment. You've probably seen something like this in movies related to infectious disease research facilities. For a do-it-yourself at-home version, some plastic sheeting and duct tape should suffice. The idea is to keep all possibly contaminated articles out of the safe zone (the rest of your home), including any splashed or aerosolized droplets. So the plastic sheeting, taped around all edges, and overlapped and taped at the entrance, prevents anything from inadvertently getting past. You can find stick-on zippers, wall supports, and other accessories to make this easier to erect and use at your local home center; just ask for construction dust containment or mold abatement products. Any other doors but the airlocked one should then remain locked and barred. You should preferably keep a positive air pressure in the house and/or a negative air pressure inside the airlock, e.g. by using a fan or shop vac to blow air from the airlock to the exterior of the house. That will prevent germs from being sucked into the living area from the airlock. You should check that other possible air inlets into the house are also relatively safe from public contamination. Although Ebola is not currently airborne, you can never be too cautious in such a circumstance, and this preparation would also work for other, airborne diseases should such a pandemic occur, or if Ebola were to mutate into an airborne strain, or even for radioactive fallout (if you want to be prepared for anything). If you have more space in which to work, such as an attached garage, you can create a multi-stage decontamination room including a dirty change area, a shower area, and a clean change area, each separated by plastic sheeting.
Invest in some hospital-grade soap for people to wash off in the airlock and some hospital-grade cleanser to disinfect all surfaces. Alternative disinfectants include bleach (sodium or calcium hypochlorite), hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, vinegar (acetic acid), formaldehyde, or a UV-C disinfection lamp. Possibly contaminated people entering the house through the airlock should strip off all of their clothes, including undergarments, and place them into a plastic garbage bag and tie it tight. They should then thoroughly wash their entire body with hospital-grade soap or a sanitizing agent such as alcohol gel. For a wet shower, you can find portable shower basins for camping or elderly care which have a garden hose outlet that can drain into a five gallon bucket. After washing, they should then disinfect the airlock by wiping down all surfaces with a suitable disinfectant (e.g. 5.25% sodium hypochlorite liquid bleach diluted 1:10 with water), including the clothes bag and disinfectant container. They should then re-sanitize their hands and put on fresh clothes left directly outside the airlock (or in the clean change area if you have a more elaborate setup).
Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids (including blood, pus, vomit, sweat, saliva, mucus, breastmilk, urine, stool, and semen) and can survive on contaminated surfaces, especially at cold temperatures, for upwards of a day. Heat kills the virus faster. Washing possibly contaminated clothes in hot water and a hot-air dryer should reliably decontaminate them. Clothes should be taken from the airlock to the washing machine in the tied plastic garbage bag, preferably handled with nitrile gloves, taking care not to touch anything else. The clothes should be emptied into the washer and the bag and gloves should go into a designated biohazard garbage can, preferably with a relatively airtight lid that can be opened (slowly) with a foot lever, the outside of which should then be disinfected once closed. The clothes should be washed on the hottest setting (don't wear delicate clothes during a pandemic!) with a spin cycle and then transferred with fresh nitrile gloves (and face and eye protection) to the dryer and dried on the hottest, longest cycle and left to cool down in the dryer preferably for a few hours.
But even the best prevention methods aren't foolproof. What if you have to leave your house for some reason and someone coughs directly into your face and it gets around any protective mask or eye protection you're wearing? If you or someone in your family gets infected and you don't want to send them away to some mass-treatment hospital, then you would need to provide biocontainment of their palliative care room similar to the airlock described above and have strict policies about entering and interacting with the infected person so as to prevent infecting the rest of the household. Even though Ebola is not classified as an airborne disease, aerosolized sputum from coughing or sneezing could in fact be a vector of transmission for short periods of time. So you don't want that getting into the air or settling on surfaces where it might infect others. If you have a forced-air furnace or central air-conditioning, you'll want to block any vents in the biocontainment room or shut off the system. Comfort to the patient might be provided by a space heater or electric blanket.
To facilitate the easiest and least risky cleaning of bodily fluids from the sick patient, their room might best be set up in a bathroom if the home has a second one for the uninfected occupants to use as well. This would allow the bed to be set up such that the head is positioned over the bathtub so that vomit could be washed straight down the drain. The patient would also not have to leave the biocontainment room to use the toilet or for caregivers to empty a bedpan. And water for hydration and hygiene would be available without having to take containers in and out of the room. Moreover, most bathrooms have a ventilation fan which creates a negative pressure inside the room, preventing airflow into the rest of the house. These advantages strongly argue for this strategy over a bedroom, which might be the customary choice.
Remember though that just because someone presents symptoms consistent with Ebola does not mean they have Ebola. Even during a pandemic, other diseases still exist, and many of them share similar symptoms. Ebola can look a lot like malaria, dengue fever, typhoid fever, or even influenza or the common cold, at least at first. Early symptoms of Ebola include fever, malaise, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, joint and muscle pain, weakness, and lack of appetite. These symptoms are very nonspecific, so you shouldn't jump to conclusions, however extreme caution is of course warranted and the patient should be isolated and treated as if they might have contracted Ebola. To confuse things further, immunosuppression from Ebola may cause a secondary bacterial infection during this time which presents symptoms inconsistent with Ebola. If the patient does have Ebola, symptoms progress to skin rashes, bruising, and internal and external bleeding known as "viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF) syndrome" -- capillary leak, bleeding diathesis, and hemodynamic compromise. Ebola interferes with blood clotting and disrupts the electrolyte balance. In advanced stages, patients will begin bleeding from cuts, scratches, IV puncture sites, and mucus membranes including the eyes, nose, gums, and genitals. Pulmonary edema or bleeding into the lungs causes the coughing up of blood. Eventually, patients suffer shock, hyperventilation, hypotension, coma, renal failure, and multiple-organ failure.
If a sick patient recovers without significant illness, it may be that they didn't have Ebola at all. Still, if you cannot get a blood test done to confirm it, it's best to isolate the person for at least 20 days from first symptoms. After that, if they did have Ebola, they should no longer be contagious.
HOW TO PREVENT EBOLA DISEASE
There's not too much that can be done to completely prevent a viral infection if you're exposed to the infectious agent, particularly internally or on a mucus membrane. But it's possible to defeat an infection before it makes you sick or diseased from it. That's why I say that good immunity is the best disease prevention method, because it works even if you get infected. Human immunity has two parts, the adaptive immune system and the innate immune system.
The adaptive immune system works on the principle of acquired immunity. It gives your lymphocytes (or white blood cells) receptors to detect the antigens (or membrane features) of foreign invading cells or virions based on the past experience of having been infected with them. Vaccination works on the principle of administering antigenic material into a person's body to stimulate adaptive immunity to it. Vaccines don't prevent infection, but rather prevent morbidity, or a diseased state as a result of the infection. Someone adaptively immune to a disease is able to eliminate the invading infectious agents before they can cause a cascade replication which causes the symptoms of disease. So they become infected but they don't become ill (express symptoms). Or if they do get sick, the duration and severity is decreased.
The problem with adaptive immunity is that you have to get sick before you acquire it. And with a disease like Ebola, only about 10% of people who get infected ever recover. Or you can take a vaccine, but vaccines aren't always effective or safe. In the case of Ebola virus (EBOV for short), no publicly available vaccine exists at all. The CDC owns a patent to a species of Ebola from an outbreak in Uganda in 2007, suggesting that they may have studied vaccines for that "Bundibugyo" strain, but that's not the same one currently circulating in West Africa and now the United States, which is the "Guinean" strain, a new strain with 97% similarity to the "Zaire" strain (one of the most lethal at 80-90% fatality rate). Different species of Ebola "have genomes that are at least 30-40% divergent from one another," according to the CDC patent, so it is unlikely that a vaccine for one would be effective on another. Such divergence is easy in a microbe that only has seven genes in its RNA genome. You would think such a simple organism would be easy to defend against, but it's an efficient killer. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that a vaccine might be available in 2015 based on an experimental Canadian vaccine, but there are few details on that. Another vaccine candidate from GlaxoSmithKline has received expedited approvals, though human testing is minimal. And even if a vaccine is released for general use at some point (they've been trying to create one for HIV for decades unsuccessfully), that doesn't mean it's effective and safe, especially since they're taking shortcuts in studies to expedite release. An ineffective or marginally effective vaccine might be worse than no vaccine if it makes people think they're immune when they're not. Also, viruses (and bacteria and other infectious agents) can mutate so that they're no longer recognized by the adaptive immune system, rendering previous immunity useless. That's why the seasonal flu vaccine doesn't work very well and why you can keep getting the flu over and over again despite having antibodies to the flu. It's never quite the same one.
But vaccines or adaptive immunity are not the sole, or even necessarily best, source of human immunity. The innate immune system is able to recognize foreign invaders without having antibodies to target them. Maintaining a strong innate immune system is the best thing from a disease prevention standpoint. While adaptive immunity would specifically eliminate the known antigen with high success rate, the innate immune system reacts swiftly and effectively so long as it has the resources it needs to continue mounting its defense. The top actions you can take to preventively fortify your innate immune system are as follows:
Much immunity is gained by maintaining a good digestive tract with balanced intestinal flora. That means taking probiotic capsules (typically the refrigerated ones or enteric coated ones are best) and/or eating live-culture yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods containing lactobacilli. These "good bacteria" keep out competing bad microorganisms and support overall immune function. As Hippocrates said, "all disease begins in the gut." That's because 70% of your lymphocyte-producing immune cells are located in your gastrointestinal lining! Probiotics help to kill pathogens and prevent their toxic byproducts, thus relieving your immune cells of the responsibility. They also produce important vitamins including K and B-complex, and help to absorb important immune-enhancing minerals.
Getting sufficient vitamin D is important as well, in particular the form known as cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to increased risk of viral infections including HIV and influenza. About 50% of Americans are deficient according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Your skin will produce copious amounts of vitamin D in the presence of ultraviolet light (UV-B), so you should try to get at least 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight on 50% or more of your body (prior to using any sunscreen) at least once per week during the warm months, taking care not to burn. That's enough to produce over 10,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D. Doing this multiple times per week is even better.
During the winter, you need to get vitamin D from food and supplements in the amount of about 2,000 IUs per day for optimal immunity (recommendations for 200-600 IUs per day is only for bone health). Some fatty fish meat has significant vitamin D levels, such as salmon or trout with about 450 IUs in 3 oz or canned light tuna with about 150 IUs in 4 oz, but that's still well short of 2,000 IUs. Egg yolks have about 40 IUs each. Vitamin D fortified milk and cereals are another source, albeit not sufficient on their own. Fortified milk has about 100 IUs in an 8 oz glass. Cereal like Cheerios has about 40 IUs per cup. Clearly the food-based options are not enough for the immune-boosting requirements during the winter, which is why so many people are deficient. Supplements are really required for temperate-zoned people in the winter. Vitamin D is fat-soluble and should be taken in supplements with an oil base, preferably in combination with an omega-3 supplement. Cod liver oil contains about 1,300 IUs of vitamin D per tablespoon, and this is usually the basis of vitamin D supplement capsules. Cod liver oil also contains about 13,500 IUs of vitamin A (270% DV), an important immune-boosting antioxidant, and 2,600 mg of omega-3, making this one powerhouse supplement! Avoid ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) tablets, which are made from irradiated fungus and are not clinically effective at meeting your vitamin D requirements.
One other vitamin D option is a UV-emitting lamp or tanning bed, though this can carry some skin cancer risks and is therefore only recommended if you cannot properly absorb dietary vitamin D. But if you go this route, choose one with electronic ballasts only, not magnetic ballasts, and one which minimizes UV-A output while delivering UV-B.
Vitamin D toxicity is possible, but only if you take 40,000 IUs per day for a couple of months or longer, or take a very large one-time dose (600,000 IUs in a 24 hour period). When you take large amounts of vitamin D, your liver produces too much of a chemical called 25-deoxy-cholecalciferol [25(OH)D], which can cause high levels of calcium to develop in your blood, a condition called hypercalcemia. It would be very hard to accidentally consume this much vitamin D via supplements. And sunlight/lamp exposure does not cause toxicity because your body is able to naturally regulate how much vitamin D your skin makes.
Avoid toxins and inflammatory agents that might damage or stress your immune system including cigarette smoke, sugar, excessive alcohol, and omega-6 vegetable oils. Sugar is a double-whammy against your immune system since fructose metabolism creates toxic, oxidizing, and inflammatory byproducts, and because leukocytes will preferentially engulf fructose instead of invading microbes, thus impairing their effort to rid your body of the infectious diseases.
Avoid too much stress. Chronic stress or distress causes permanently elevated cortisol levels, which is the fight-or-flight hormone. Cortisol inactivates immune T-cells and NK cells, sabotaging your immunity. That's okay for a transient fight-or-flight situation, but when it's chronic, it invites infection. Lower stress by avoiding stressors when possible or by ameliorating the cortisol by relaxing with meditation, sleep, music, massage, tea, sex, comedy, or anything else which works for you.
Ensure cardiovascular fitness with at least a few minutes of high-intensity exercise per week or longer periods of moderate exercise. Besides reducing stress and toxins, exercise circulates your lymphatic system, ensuring lymphocytes find any infectious agents.
Get sufficient amounts of all essential vitamins and minerals with a multivitamin supplement and a balanced diet high in antioxidant superfoods. Starting from a position of good nutritional health provides the best chances of survival should you be exposed to the virus.
HOW TO PREVENT EBOLA FATALITY
There are currently no effective antiviral drug treatments known for Ebola. The broad-spectrum antiviral drug, ribavirin, used against other hemororrhagic fevers, is useless against Ebola. The first U.S. Ebola victim, Thomas Duncan, received an experimental drug called brincidofovir after emergency FDA approval, but it did not prevent his death. Some RNA transcription blocking drugs are in development for Ebola, but none ready for human trials, although some are being given to Ebola victims anyway given their bleak prognosis, albeit with minimal benefit. Supportive care is all that is recommended at this time, so home care is as effective as hospital care as long as precautions are taken against spreading the disease to others in the household as described above. Once infected, there are some measures other than drugs you can take to help your body to fight it though.
The high fatality rate of Zaire/Guinean EBOV (upwards of 90%) suggests that those who do get infected mostly do not have sufficient innate immune systems or are not able to sustain their immune response for long enough. The fact that at least 10% of people do fight off the infection proves that innate immunity is absolutely possible though! With a strong innate immune response, it's absolutely possible to fight this thing off. Once you or someone you're caring for gets ill as a result of an Ebola infection, it is vital to maximize the innate immune system's resources and tactics.
A fever (or pyrexia) is a good thing for killing viruses as long as it doesn't get dangerously high, which is above 108° F (42.22° C). Fevers inhibit virus metabolism or directly kill viruses like Ebola which can tolerate only a fairly narrow temperature range. Fevers also stimulate the motion, activity, and multiplication of white blood cells and increase the production of antibodies. This is why your body responds to a virus with a fever. The virus does not cause the fever, but rather it is your body's innate immune response. But very high fevers can cause severe harm to the patient, including convulsions and death. Antipyretic drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen should not be taken to control a hemorrhagic fever. These are all anticoagulants and must be avoided due to the hemorrhagic nature of the disease, as it will likely accelerate bleeding out. So other antifebrile methods should be employed, such as ice packs, if necessary to bring your body temperature back under 108° F. Also, if any other blood thinners are being taken, e.g. to help prevent thrombosis or embolism, they must be ceased immediately upon contracting a hemorrhagic fever or they will accelerate VHF syndrome. The virus itself is a blood thinner. Acetaminophen does not affect coagulation and may be taken for excessive fevers and pain.
Hydration is always very important when fighting an infection, particularly one that produces a high fever, perspiration, and profuse bleeding. If you cannot drink clean mineralized water, then an intravenous (IV) saline drip would be ideal. Severe dehydration often precedes death in Ebola cases. When a patient has stopped urinating, their time is limited. Without restoration of fluids to keep the heart pumping, circulatory system collapse and shock lead to death. Buying the supplies and becoming knowledgeable about how to apply intravenous hydration before a pandemic would be a very good idea.
Antibiotics might help repel any secondary opportunistic bacterial infections as a result of a stressed immune system. So having some Amoxicillin, Erythromycin, Tetracycline, Ciprofloxacin, and/or Sulfamethaxazole handy (available from pet stores, same as pharmaceutical grade human antibiotics) and the know-how to administer them without a doctor's prescription (in case there aren't any doctors available) would be a good idea. It would be used only on the infected after a day or two to prevent opportunistic bacterial secondary infections, not in order to prevent the viral infection, as antibiotics are not effective against viruses. But while a secondary infection may sound like a lesser one, in fact, people often die of secondary infections to diseases which suppress the immune system, e.g. AIDS patients dying of pneumonia. In many cases, these bacteria are already in us, but our immune systems keep them at bay in normal circumstances. They're just waiting for our guard to go down. How would you know how to administer antibiotics without a doctor's prescription? Get a copy of the The Merck Manual. For instance, it says that S. pneumoniae, H. influenzae, C. pneumoniae, and M. pneumoniae are the most common bacterial causes of pneumonia. Treatment of a community-acquired (as opposed to hospital-acquired) pneumonia bacteria in an adult is azithromycin 500 mg po once, then 250 mg once/day; or clarithromycin 250 to 500 mg po bid; or if allergic to macrolides such as azithromycin and clarithromycin, then doxycycline 100 mg po bid. In a 4-year-old, the treatment is erythromycin 10 mg/kg po qid. BTW, it's best to read a little about this stuff before you need it, for example to know that "PO" means "by mouth" and that "BID" means "twice a day" and "QID" means "four times a day", although the book does contain a list of medical abbreviations in case you don't know one.
The immune system needs good nutrition from the outset and utilizes certain nutrients in excess while battling an infection. Make sure to eat enough saturated fats and cholesterol so that your immune cells can quickly replicate. Cell membranes are made of these lipids (and consuming them is not scientifically linked to heart disease in any way, despite common misconception, but even if it was, the acute needs outweigh any longer-term risks). Likewise, you need sufficient protein to manufacture armies of leukocytes to destroy the invading viruses, particularly complete proteins composed of balanced amino acids. Meat and animal-based broths are a good source of all of these macronutrients, so the age-old remedy of chicken soup is a good one. Other good sources include eggs, dairy, fish, sprouts, seeds, and nuts.
A general multivitamin will help prevent any deficiencies of vitamins and minerals your immune system may need, but certain ones in particular need special attention, particularly vitamin C.
One of your primary immune responses is for white blood cells called neutrophils to produce superoxide free radicals, hydrogen peroxide, and hypochlorite within your body to actually oxidize invaders (just like bleach does on external surfaces), destroying the viral DNA before it can replicate. It's a sort of natural chemotherapy. While extremely effective, this would also oxidize your own body, destroying your immune cells, vascular system, and organs if not for water-soluble antioxidants like vitamin C (ascorbic acid), uric acid, and glutathione, and fat-soluble antioxidants like vitamins A & E, protecting them from the deleterious effects. Vitamin C in particular is available to rapidly respond to immune-stimluated free radicals in the blood and intracellular fluids, particularly in the neutrophils themselves. Neutrophils accumulate a high intracellular vitamin C concentration when available. Vitamin C converts superoxide free radicals into hydrogen peroxide, a less reactive molecule than superoxide, and converts hydrogen peroxide into water and stable, less-reactive dioxygen (02), which is the same oxygen gas you breath in through your lungs. It works by donating hydrogen atoms to the superoxide and hydrogen peroxide, thus becoming oxidized. But unlike many other organic molecules, the oxidized form of vitamin C, called dehydroascorbic acid (DHA), is stable due to resonance delocalization and does not cause a free radical chain reaction. This is what makes it an effective antioxidant. Vitamin C even restores the antioxidant value of vitamin E after vitamin E has been oxidized, helping to ensure cell membrane integrity.
Without enough of these antioxidants, your immune system becomes impaired and stops producing superoxide and hydrogen peroxide, which are its most effective tools. In fact, the neutrophils which engulf and obliterate these invaders by way of oxidation actually succumb to their own weapon and undergo necrosis as their own cell membranes become oxidized. Instead of the healthy, programmed apoptosis and clearing that would normally occur, the loss of membrane integrity spills the cellular contents into the intercellular space, clouding the plasma with decomposed organelles and virus bits, making other immune cells less capable of finding and eliminating live viruses as well. And the resulting inflammation and oxidation of tissues may lead to general necrosis, sepsis, gangrene, and loss of blood vessel integrity, all of which are typical of Ebola in the end stages, suggesting that its lethality is partially a result of exhausting your antioxidants.
Vitamin C has long been associated with improved immune function for this reason and is beneficial if taken in large doses starting at the first signs of infection. Vitamin C is rapidly oxidized by the free radicals and broken down and excreted while you're battling an infection and needs to be constantly replaced, though very high doses should not be taken as a preventative measure prior to infection since consistently high amounts could lead to kidney stones. During normal conditions, much of your DHA is recycled back into ascorbate by reduction with glutathione, making your daily dietary requirement without infection somewhere between 80 mg (a level to prevent scurvy) and 2000 mg (advocated by some, such as Linus Pauling, for optimal health). Large supplemental doses of up to 10,000 mg/day should accompany a known infection only. Some health care providers may even be able to provide injectable vitamin C, which is done for cancer and burn victims, as that makes the vitamin C more bioavailable. The median lethal dose of vitamin C is very high (upwards of 12 grams per kilogram of body weight), so overdose is highly unlikely whether ingested or injected.
Uric acid performs roughly the same function as vitamin C -- an effective water-soluble antioxidant -- albeit acting several times slower than vitamin C. Instead of concentrating inside of neutrophils like vitamin C, where the cells engulf and kill invaders (called phagocytosis), uric acid is involved primarily in stimulating another immune response called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). NETs are cast out into the extracellular fluid and bloodstream where they similarly incapacitate microbes with reactive oxygen species (ROS) like superoxide. But neutrophils only produce NETs in response to a sufficient level of uric acid to sop up the extra free radicals afterward. Without the uric acid, it would be too dangerous to release those free radicals into your bloodstream. Uric acid is produced by your body proportionally to zinc consumption, which is why zinc is also associated with immune function. Zinc deficiency causes low uric acid production, and low uric acid production means fewer virus-obliterating NETs cast into the bloodstream to kill invaders. However, too much zinc may result in copper deficiency, so don't go overboard on the zinc supplements. Copper should be supplemented along with zinc in a zinc-to-copper ratio of 10 to 1.
Another vital component to spare your body harm from its own immune response is several enzymes including superoxide dismutase (SOD), which catalyzes the disproportionation of superoxide into hydrogen peroxide and dioxygen, and catalase, which catalyzes the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide into water and dioxygen. These enzymes work with vitamin C and uric acid and other antioxidants to eliminate dangerous free radicals caused by the immune response. Your body creates these enzymes, but like uric acid, the production is dependent on certain minerals. Catalase requires iron at its core. Superoxide dismutase is actually a family of enzymes containing different metals at their core, including zinc, copper, and manganese. So supplementing with zinc, copper, manganese, and iron should help ensure proper immune function via these enzymes. It is unknown whether more supplementation than usual is called for during an infection, but at least consuming the normal recommended daily intake is important. A 2011 study showed that Manganese Superoxide Dismutase (MnSOD) deficiency resulted in immunodeficiency and susceptibility to influenza virus in mice.
Certain polyphenols may aid the antioxidant and pro-immune activity as well. For example, resveratrol -- a compound found in red wine, peanuts, and berries including mulberries, cranberries, and blueberries -- causes a 14-fold increase in superoxide dismutase action and a similar increase in catalase activity. Other polyphenols, including proanthocyanidins, are also powerful antioxidants. These may be consumed from colorful berries of all kinds and fruits (such as apples), where the compounds are concentrated in the skins. Dark chocolate and coffee are also a good source, as are dark, oak-aged spirits due to the tannins.
The main difference between vitamin C and the various polyphenols as antioxidants is concentration. Even if resveratrol is many times better (I've seen some claims that it is up to 3,500 times better) at scavenging free radicals than vitamin C, you only get about 2 mg of resveratrol in a glass of red wine (90 mg of total proanthocyanidins) and less than 1 mg in a cup of peanuts. Therefore, taking concentrated supplements may be the best bet, but it is unknown how bioavailable those supplements are, and even if you can get a large concentration of them into your body, they'll still not compare well to the amount of vitamin C which can be recruited into the fight (10,000+ mg). Your body understands how to use vitamin C better for a rapid antioxidant response and has mechanisms for transport and recycling, making this the most important nutrient to focus on. But supplying your body with polyphenols too would be a bonus.
Just avoid over-consumption of sugar or alcohol in your attempts to supplement with polyphenols or vitamin C, as those will cause immunosuppression and inflammation. The National Institutes of Health recognizes one glass of wine per day as being immunosupportive, but much more than that is detrimental. Also, as mentioned previously, but worth repeating, research has found that leukocytes will preferentially engulf fructose instead of invading microbes, thus impairing their effort to rid your body of the infectious disease. So simple sugars should be avoided while sick, especially soda or fruit juice. The polyphenols are in the skins, not the juice -- red wine is the exception because it is fermented with the skins. Most food that is consumed should be fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates. Despite our common association of orange juice with vitamin C, it's best to avoid all of that sugar. Instead, use supplement pills, capsules, or powders and other plant sources such as broccoli, peppers, beans, peas, kale, spinach, onions, and cabbage. Many of these plant sources actually have much higher concentrations of vitamin C than oranges anyway, especially sauerkraut, which also has probiotics, B vitamins, manganese, etc. So there's no need to drink orange juice, which may just make things worse.
As previously discussed, other antioxidant vitamins include the fat-soluble ones, A and E. These protect your cell membranes and should also be consumed in greater quantities while battling an infection. Vitamin A (carotenoids, retinoids) and vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) deficiency has been independently correlated to a higher susceptibility to viral infections, particularly due to less production of neutrophils, NK cells, cytokines, B cells, T cells, and antibodies. Good sources of both vitamin A and E include leafy green vegetables such as kale, romaine, spinach, and collard greens. Vitamin A is also found in carrots and potatoes, and vitamin E in oily seeds like sunflower seeds and nuts such as almonds and those resveratrol-containing peanuts (which are actually legumes).
Another group of vitamins important for immune support are the B-complex vitamins. In particular, vitamin B1 (thiamine) is required for the synthesis of thiamin pyrophosphate (TPP), which is a coenzyme vital to the production of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH), which is responsible for creating the oxidative burst of superoxide and hydrogen peroxide in neutrophils which destroy invading viruses. It's also important for lipid and cholesterol synthesis for cell membranes and also in the regeneration of reduced glutathione. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is required to recycle the antioxidant glutathione, which in turn recycles other antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) is associated with cell membrane production, hormone signaling, and antibody production. Vitamin B6 is associated with protein synthesis, red blood cell production, and superoxide dismutase production. Vitamin B9 (folic acid) is essential for DNA and protein synthesis, and is particularly related to proper T lymphocyte, cytokine, and antibody response. Vitamin B12 is important in DNA and protein synthesis and the production of NK cells and lymphocytes. Taking a B-complex vitamin supplement would be highly advised while battling an infection. These can provide several times the normal recommended daily value. Food sources of B vitamins include meat and dairy, mushrooms, leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy), legumes (beans, peas, lentils), asparagus, bell peppers, garlic, potatoes, beets, and parsley.
We've already established that maintaining sufficient zinc, manganese, copper, and iron concentrations is crucial to mount a strong immune response. Another mineral to add to that list is selenium, which is required for glutathione peroxidases which catalyze the antioxidant glutathione to reduce peroxide radicals in cell membranes and aid in the innate immune response previously discussed by preventing neutrophil necrosis. Selenium is also important in cytokine expression. Several studies have shown that selenium supplementation stimulates enhanced immunity. Besides a multivitamin supplement, detox mineral supplement, or antioxidant mineral supplement, good sources for all of these minerals include beef, chicken, fish, dairy, eggs, mushrooms, seeds, nuts, leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, legumes, asparagus, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, garlic, oats, and parsley.
When it comes to polyphenol antioxidants, probably the most well-known source is tea. Green, oolong, and black teas are produced from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Since green tea is not fermented, it contains a relatively high amount of catechins as compared to black tea. Fermentation causes the catechins to polymerize, which produces the theaflavins and thearubigens found in oolong and black tea, but absent in green tea. All of these compounds are potent antioxidants due to the high number of hydroxyl (OH) groups. Many studies, some as early as 1949, have shown the antiviral benefits of green tea catechins, but black tea is equally as effective. A 1998 study found that theaflavin derivatives in black tea neutralize bovine rotavirus and bovine coronavirus. A 2005 study found that they inhibit HIV-1 infection. A 2012 study found that they inhibit influenza virus. A 2013 study found that they reduce or block Herpes simplex HSV-1 virus. The antiviral agency is primarily or exclusively antioxidant in nature. The likelihood that green or black tea might be effective against Ebola rests on the same foundation of antioxidant-based innate immunity via neutrophil oxidation of virions as we've discussed so far.
Garlic has long been an antiviral folk remedy, and now the pungent, sulfur-containing vegetable has some science backing it up. In addition to the relatively high concentrations of selenium, manganese, vitamin B6, and vitamin C it contains, it also enhances thiamin and iron absorption, and it has a number of sulfur-containing compounds which make it an antiviral powerhouse. Allicin, the organosulfur compound released as a defense mechanism when fresh garlic is chopped or crushed, has demonstrable antiviral activity both in vitro and in vivo. Among the viruses susceptible to allicin are Herpes simplex type 1 and 2, Parainfluenza virus type 3, human Cytomegalo virus, Influenza B, Vaccinia virus, Vesicular stomatitis virus, and Human rhinovirus type 2. One double-blind study found that a daily supplement containing purified allicin reduced subjects' risk of catching a cold by 64% and for those who did catch it, the symptom duration was reduced by 70%. Another sulfur-containing compound, ajoene, has been shown to disrupt the processes in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and has also shown virucidal properties against Vesicular stomatitis, Vaccinia, Human rhinovirus parainfluenza, and Herpes simplex, among others. It is unknown whether allicin, ajoene, or any other bioactive components of garlic have any effect on Ebola, but it certainly can't hurt. But garlic's strength doesn't stop at allicin, ajoene, or any of its particular thiosulfinates or polysulfides.
The high concentration of sulfur itself is very important to garlic's (not to mention onion's) immunosupportive properties. All proteins contain sulfur in the form of either methionine or cysteine amino acids, and the disulfide bonds they afford are important protein binding structures, so sulfur is clearly essential in the rapid protein synthesis required to mount a good immune reaction. But it goes far beyond that even. Thiols, or sulfur alcohols, are sulfhydryl groups (sulfur bonded to hydrogen) which are able to react with carboxylic acids to form thioesters, which act as acyl group carriers to transfer fatty acids and synthesize cell membranes. This is how coenzyme A works. Moreover, thiol radicals reduced by NADPH are an important step in the production of deoxyribonucleotides for DNA synthesis. So sulfur is essential to all aspects of cellular division and growth -- membrane production, protein synthesis, and DNA synthesis. Without enough sulfur, your body cannot produce the leukocytes, antibodies, and other cells necessary to battle the infection, let alone repair the endothelial cells which are devastated by Ebola.
A sulfur-bearing thiol group is the functional group of the amino acid cysteine, which is the bioactive component of glutathione, taurine, and coenzyme A, among many other proteins. Glutathione is an important antioxidant, as previously discussed. The antioxidant activity is afforded by those sulfhydryl groups which will readily give up their hydrogen to an oxidizer, making them a reducing agent. When oxidized by reactive oxygen species (ROS), glutathione becomes reactive, but two reactive glutathione molecules will form a disulfide bond with each other, becoming stable and nonreactive glutathione disulfide (GSSG), thus terminating a free radical chain reaction safely. Glutathione can be regenerated from GSSG via NADPH (discussed previously with regard to vitamin B1) and the enzyme glutathione reductase. In turn, glutathione helps to regenerate vitamins C and E into active antioxidant forms after they've been oxidized, e.g. by superoxide or hydrogen peroxide. And as we already know, these vitamins are very important to sustaining leukocytes such as neutrophils. Taurine is another cysteine-based molecule, an amino sulfonic acid, which has wide-ranging functions throughout the human body, including as an antioxidant. While humans can synthesize cysteine and its derivatives such as taurine and glutathione, these may also be considered conditionally essential nutrients in that we can't always generate them in sufficient quantities. One of those times may be during the oxidative stress produced by viral infection, in which case, these must be supplemented primarily from animal products including meat (especially organ meat), eggs, fish, and dairy. The high sulfur content of these foods is what contributes to their pungent smell when rotting (especially eggs), and those sulfur compounds are largely these conditionally essential nutrients. Undenatured whey protein isolate commonly used for muscle building is also an excellent source of cysteine and glutathione. And to the extent that we can synthesize these molecules ourselves, we need to eat sulfur-rich foods including garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables. Another important element of glutathione production is vitamin D, which is a catalyst for its synthesis. Studies found that vitamin D increased glutathione levels by an average of 42%.
Another age-old antiviral folk remedy is the elderberry (Sambucus nigra). It was referred to as a "medicine chest" by the father of medicine, Hippocrates, in 400 BC. Until recently, the main bioactive components were assumed to be high levels of antioxidant vitamin C, vitamin A, and polyphenols (several times more than blueberries or cranberries). While those are reason enough to add elderberries to the menu, research has revealed new insights into how elder can act on viruses, including traditionally the common cold and eight different strains of influenza, including H1N1 and H5N1. Research also suggests it's effective against Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Elder bark, berries, and flowers contain a family of five lectins called Sambucus nigra agglutinins (SNA), which are a type 2 ribosome-inactivating protein (RIP). RIPs are some of the most toxic molecules known to man.Ricin, which is used as a bioweapon, is a RIP. RIPs are able to bind to glycoproteins specific to a target cell membrane, enter the cell, and shut down all protein synthesis by cleaving the ribosomal RNA, which kills the cell. It also binds the viruses (or bacteria) together into clumps for easier removal. Pathogens have specific glycoproteins on their membranes to which SNA binds which are different from those on most animal cells. SNA is similar to an antibody in this way, but a killer antibody. But unlike ricin, where a few micrograms can kill an adult human, SNA has very low toxicity to animals including humans. It does mildly agglutinate human red blood cells, but 60,000 times less than ricin, and not enough to impair function. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Virology indicated via lectin precipitation assay that SNA agglutinates Ebola Zaire glycoprotein. In other words, SNA can identify and attach to Ebola Zaire, though its effectiveness at destroying it is uknown. It is not known whether supplementing with Sambuca extract actually improves immunity to Ebola Zaire, but it theoretically should help, particularly if taken soon after exposure when the viral load is still small. There are extracts available online or from most drug stores, but elderberry bushes are also common the world over including the United States. The leaves, bark, and berries should not be eaten raw, as there is the possibility of cyanide poisoning unless they are cooked. But you can find recipes for extracts, teas, jams, cordials, and other preparations online.
According to a 2009 study in Virology Journal, a number of viruses were inactivated in vitro by echinacea purpurea extracts, including the human pathogenic Victoria (H3N2) and PR8 (H1N1), avian KAN-1 (H5N1) and FPV (H7N7) and pandemic S-OIV (H1N1) strains of influenza A, as well as rhinovirus (HRV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Other studies have shown in vivo benefits for treating (but not preventing) certain viral infections, cutting recovery times in half. A popular cold, flu, and respiratory remedy for centuries, dating back to Native American usage, echinacea extract apparently inhibits the receptor binding activity of the virus, preventing entry into cells. It also has some anti-inflammatory effects. The bioactive compounds in echinacea are thought to be phenolic caffeic acid derivatives, alkylamides, polysaccharides, flavonoids, and alkaloids. The compound cichoric acid contanied in echinacea has been shown to inhibit Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) replication. The typical dosage of echinacea powdered extract is 300 mg 3 times a day. Alcohol tincture (1:5) is usually taken at a dosage of 3 to 4 ml 3 times daily. Echinacea juice at a dosage of 2 to 3 ml 3 times daily. Echinacea appears to be generally safe, even when taken in very high doses, as it has not been found to cause any toxic effects. There is currently no evidence of echinacea's effectiveness against Ebola, but the broad-spectrum anti-viral activity would suggest some benefit.
As long as we're evaluating ancient remedies, we have to include turmeric. This is another antiviral going back thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine (meaning "life science" in Sanskrit). Curcumin, the main bioactive polyphenol in turmeric, reportedly stopped Rift Valley Fever (RVF) virus and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE) virus from multiplying in infected cells, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Other recent studies found that curcumin prevented HIV, HPV, and Herpes simplex infections. Curcumin interferes with how the virus interacts with the human cells. How exactly is not entirely clear, but it's likely that its strong antioxidant properties are a part of it. As we've discussed at length already, antioxidants allow your immune system to oxidize invading viruses at full strength without damaging the immune cells or the rest of your body. Curcumin also controls system-wide inflammation so that the immune response is more targeted. Curcumin is at least as potent an anti-inflammatory as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone according to clinical studies. It works by down-regulating the activity of cellular signaling molecules including cyclooxygenases (COX), nitric oxide synthase enzymes, protein kinase C (PKC), protein tyrosine kinases, and endonucleases. In addition, curcumin is a potent inhibitor of SERCA Ca2+ pumps and of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptor. Curcumin is also known to regulate several ion channels on the cell membrane, such as Kv1.4 K+ channels, and the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) Cl− channel. It's not a cure-all, but since chronic inflammation is the main contributing factor to all chronic degenerative diseases including arthritis, asthma, wrinkles/aging, diabetes, depression, migraines, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, Alzheimer's, and cancer, its panoply of uses certainly makes it seem like one! Add to that list that it's apparently a very broad-spectrum antiviral with the potential to slow infections so that your immune system can finish them off more easily. There is no information regarding whether it has been used against Ebola specifically, but it stands to reason that it could be used to help slow an Ebola infection similarly to its impact on RVF, VEE, HIV, HPV, and HSV-1. Moreover, the anti-inflammatory action of turmeric will help to provide comfort by reducing swelling in the throat, making it easier and less painful to swallow, and in the head where it relieves headaches, making for a more comfortable recovery. Turmeric is also a good source of manganese, iron, potassium, copper, and vitamin B6, also lending it immune-boosting credibility. However, there is a big caveat! Turmeric is an anticoagulant. Keep reading for more on that.
A relative of turmeric with similar powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties is ginger. Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Antiviral activity would follow from some of the same reasons as for turmeric, though there have been no specific studies in this regard, despite ginger being a common folk remedy for colds and flu for centuries. There have however been studies confirming ginger's ability to reduce nausea and vomiting, reduce pain, and scavenge free radicals. A 2003 study published in Radiation Research found that five days treatment of mice with 10 mg/kg of ginger prior to exposure to radiation not only prevented an increase in free radical damage to lipids but also greatly lessened depletion of glutathione. Moreover, ginger is an exceptional source of manganese and a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium, potassium, zinc, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, and vitamin E. One teaspoon of ginger powder contains 23% of the DV of manganese, the mineral at the heart of the superoxide dismutase (MnSOD) which protects mitochondria from ROS, and which in turn keeps immune cells functioning longer before the mitochondria issue an apoptosis signal.
A traditional Ayurvedic medicinal recipe is turmeric milk. One teaspoon dried turmeric powder, one teaspoon dried ginger powder, a dash of black pepper, and some honey to taste, combined in two cups of milk. Heat without boiling on the stove or microwave. Stir, remove from heat, and let brew 5-10 minutes, then strain if you prefer. I usually improve the traditional recipe with a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg as well as the turmeric, ginger, and pepper. These also have antioxidant properties, analgesic properties, and also help to calm a cough (nutmeg extract is used in commercial cough syrups) and an upset stomach. This is primarily due to their polyphenols and volatile oils, including eugenol, myristicin, geraniol, borneol, linalool, elemicin, sabinene, safrol, cinnamaldehyde, cineole, and coumarin, among others. All five of these spices have significant manganese content. The flavors also mesh very well. Note that curcumin is oil soluble, so a 2% or higher fat milk should be used. And the bioavailability improves with heat that does not quite reach boiling.
The black pepper (Piper nigrum) is an indispensible ingredient in the above recipe. Pepper's well-known biting quality is attributed to its alkaloid, piperine. Piperine has been documented to inhibit certain intestinal and liver enzymes that break down drugs and phytochemicals, making them significantly more bioavailable. Piperine from black pepper enhances the bioavailability of resveratrol by over 1,500% and it enhances the bioavailability of curcumin by over 2,000% in humans. Without the piperine contained in black pepper, curcumin is not absorbed well by humans at all, hence its vital role in turmeric milk, among other recipes. You should add black pepper to any medicinal food in which polyphenols are the active ingredient. Another bioavailability enhancer is the flavonoid quercetin, which is prevalent in capers, onions, tea, peppers, chocolate, dill, and colorful fruits/berries like apples and cranberries. Combining piperine and quercetin together significantly boosts all antioxidant polyphenols ingested with them. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that our ancestors figured out that adding black pepper and onion to almost all recipes was a great idea! Soups, sauces, pickles, dressings, salads, gravies, meat rubs, canned foods, sausages, etc., often contain these. Or at least they did historically. Nowadays we think in terms of flavor mostly, but back then they were concerned with their food making them feel good by satisfying deficiencies, and these spices unlocked those vital nutrients. You should consider also spicing your wine, fruits, and baked goods with these as well. It's not as weird as you might think... brandy, spiced rum, and mulled cider are usually flavored with peppercorns. Preferably, peppercorns should be stored whole and ground immediately before use by way of a pepper mill. Red pepper (capsaicin) may have a synergistic effect as well.
Interestingly, curcumin oxidizes to vanillin, the bioactive molecule in vanilla beans, and an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound in its own right. Vanilloids include curcumin, gingerol, vanillin, eugenol, piperine, and capsaicin, among others. All of these interact with the transient potential vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) in cells throughout the human body, particularly nociceptive nerve cells. This receptor is activated by chemical and physical stimuli, such as heat >43°C, low pH <6.5, certain inflammatory mediators, and phosphorylation. It is considered a general sensor of noxious stimuli. TRPV1 can become sensitized by inflammation which is why inflamed areas are sore even absent any other stimuli. Vanilloids are TRPV1 agonists, stimulating the receptor, or can be selectively antagonists, blocking signals to the receptor. Acute stimulation causes pain (e.g. pepper spray), which is why all of these spices have a peppery burning sensation, however prolonged exposure to vanilloids causes receptor desensitisation. This is why topical capsaicin creams relieve arthritis and muscle pain and inflammation. Curcumin actually blocks capsaicin overstimulation, an example of both an agonist and antagonist. TRPV1 regulation is amazingly complex and is manifest at many levels, from gene expression through posttranslational modification and formation of receptor homomers to subcellular compartmentalization and association with regulatory proteins. Different ligands and regulatory factors shift its behavior in different ways. We typically experience vanilloids changing the temperature set-point of TRPV1, with spicy foods making us feel warm and start sweating in order to lower body temperature. This can actually be a good mechanism to bring down a fever naturally since a fever is the opposite reaction -- making us feel cold and start shivering to raise the body temperature. Therefore, consuming a traditional Aztec hot chocolate containing cocoa, chili pepper, and vanilla might be a good alternative to antipyritic medicines. However, like with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), vanilloids are COX-1 inhibitors and can prevent platelet aggregation. Eugenol (clove oil) is 29 times more potent than aspirin in inhibiting arachidonic acid induced platelet aggregation. Capsaicin and gingerols are also especially potent anticoagulants. Therefore, for hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola, vanilloids including turmeric, ginger, vanilla, and hot pepper would seem to be contraindicated. However, Ebola also stimulates coagulation abnormalities that could result in thrombosis even as you suffer hypovolemic shock from massive hemorrhage. Blood clotting during sepsis reduces blood flow to limbs and internal organs, depriving them of nutrients and oxygen. In severe cases, one or more organs fail. So it's kind of a toss up. The anti-inflammatory and other pro-immunity properties of these molecules may outweigh the anticoagulation risk of further capillary leak, which may also possibly be a benfit to preventing harmful clots.
Another antioxidant which may improve your odds against Ebola is melatonin. While no direct link between the two has been studied, melatonin has been found to prevent sepsis, which is the end game of Ebola. Patients often die from septic shock and dramatic loss of blood pressure. Melatonin is an effective anti-inflammatory agent and its anti-inflammatory action has been attributed to three agencies: 1) inhibition of nitric oxide synthase with consequent reduction of peroxynitrite formation, 2) stimulation of various antioxidant enzymes thus contributing to the antioxidant defense of neutrophils and endothelium, and 3) antioxidant protective effects on mitochondrial function and in preventing apoptosis. Melatonin likely can help fight Ebola, with some caveats. Melatonin depresses the nervous system and induces sleep, which you may or may not want. Also 90% of melatonin is removed by the liver in the first pass, so supplementation might not help much. Your body is percectly capable of producing melatonin if it needs it, though in general, blue light inhibits its production. If you wanted to encourage melatonin production by your pineal gland, you should only expose yourself (your retina) to yellow or red light, nothing in the 460-480 nm band (especially daylight). But I think it would be far more effective to concentrate on other antioxidants more closely associated with immune function, including vitamins C, A, and E, glutathione, uric acid, taurine, and polyphenols like resveratrol. Nonetheless, if you wanted to focus on eating foods that contain melatonin in addition to other important vitamins and minerals, some of the best sources of melatonin include goji berries, St John's wort, mustard seeds, sunflower seeds, sour cherries, coriander, flax seeds, poppy seeds, celery seeds, fever few, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, ginger, mint, oats, and radishes. This list overlaps significantly with our prior immunity-boosting foods lists. Furthermore, melatonin production in your body is dependant on the essential amino acid tryptophan. If you don't get enough of this amino acid, you may not be able to produce melatonin. Good food sources of tryptophan include milk, oats, rice, ginger, turkey and other poultry, eggs, meat, cheese, bananas, legumes (peanuts, soy), chocolate, fish, and sesame seeds. Again, this list doesn't contain many novel foods insofar as what should already be on the menu.
In the case of Herpes Simplex virus, a deficiency of arginine completely inhibits virus replication. On the other hand, supplementing with lysine attenuates the growth-promoting effect of arginine. Lysine is an essential amino acid for humans typically acquired from meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and legumes. Lysine is an antagonist of arginine, which is an essential amino acid for Herpes Simplex virus. Because the two amino acids compete over shared metabolic pathways, high levels of one will lower levels of the other. According to studies, supplementing with 1000 to 3000 mg of lysine daily will keep most herpes cases in remission and upwards of 6000 mg is used to fight an active case. There's some evidence that the same ratio may work against the Varicella-zoster virus which causes chicken pox and shingles. However, there's no evidence that Ebola or any other viruses have the same dependency on arginine that HSV does. Nonetheless, since lysine is an essential amino acid and arginine is not, it does not hurt to maintain a ratio significantly favoring lysine. Foods rich in arginine which you might want to avoid or downplay include nuts, seeds, oats, and lentils. However, keep in mind that these foods are also powerhouse immune boosters, so avoiding them may be akin to shooting yourself in the foot. I think it would be better to focus on increasing your lysine than decreasing your arginine at the expense of the vital nutrients these foods contain. Besides the meat, dairy, and other foods high in lysine, undenatured whey protein isolate powder (used for body building) often contains an amino acid mix significantly favoring lysine, on the order of 3-to-1, with over 2000 mg of lysine per serving.
Whey protein isolate powder has been implicated in meeting several of the above requirements, including the amino acids cysteine, tryptophan, and lysine. But the advantages of this supplement go much further than that. This last, but certainly not least, nutritional supplement is possibly the most important one listed here.
Whey comes from milk. It is the protein-laced liquid that remains after milk has been curdled to make cheese (casein protein). This is then dehydrated to make whey powder. If a high-temperature or chemical process is used, it denatures the proteins and makes them less useful. Undenatured whey is processed without high temperatures or harsh chemicals, preserving proteins such as immunoglobulin, B-lactoglobulin, A-lactalbumin, glycomacropeptide, lactoferrin, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). And because the whey powder is dehydrated, these molecules are in a much greater concentration than naturally found in milk.
BCAAs are absolutely essential substrates for lymphocytes to synthesize protein, RNA, and DNA and to divide in response to immune stimulation. Dietary BCAA restriction impairs several aspects of the immune function and increases the susceptibility to pathogens. Postsurgical or septic patients given BCAAs showed improved immunity and decreased mortality. Human immune cells incorporate BCAAs into proteins. BCAA concentrations in immune cells are 2-3 times higher than other cells. Deficiency of any of the BCAAs -- leucine, isoleucine, or valine -- halts their ability to replicate. Lactoferrin, a significant component of human breast milk and colostrum, is a complex protein containing about 700 amino acids which exhibits antiviral activity against a wide range of viruses, including the Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, Cytomegalovirus, Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis C virus, Hantaviruses, Rotaviruses, Poliovirus type 1, Human respiratory syncytial virus, Murine leukemia viruses, and Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. Lactoferrin derived from cow's milk performs the same function as that from human milk. Lactoferrin binds to the same lipoproteins on cells as viruses do, thereby repelling the virus particles. Lactoferrin also directly binds to viral particles, preventing their attachment to cells. It also suppresses viral replication after the virus penetrates into the cell by recruiting natural killer (NK) cells, granulocytes, and macrophages to destroy the infected cell before the virus can use it to replicate. Lactoferrin also hydrolyzes RNA, destroying the RNA genome and inhibiting reverse transcription of retroviruses. Lactoferrin acts kind of like the mammalian equivalent to elderberry's ribosome-inactivating protein (RIP).
Glycomacropeptides (GMPs) serve as sort of a decoy to distract the infectious agents from the host's own cells. Glycoproteins are found throughout vertebrate cell membranes, making them an ideal binding target for many viruses. When the virus finds the glycoprotein for which it has a receptor, it attaches and infects the cell. GMPs are free-floating glycoproteins not incorporated into a cell membrane. So when a virus encounters a GMP, it docks and tries to infect it, except that a GMP is not a cell. This binds up the virus and prevents it from actually binding to a cell membrane. Sialic acid GMPs are effective against influenza A and also bacteria including salmonella and E.coli. A study has shown that Ebola does not bind to the sialic acid GMP, but it may or may not bind to others found in whey. There are five different sugars that comprise different GMPs. It is unknown at this time what is Ebola's binding receptor.
Alpha-lactalbumin is the primary protein in human milk. It is rich in the amino acids cysteine (a building block of glutathione) and tryptophan (a precursor to serotonin and melatonin). Beta-lactoglobulin transports vitamin B12 and vitamin A, among other vitamins. Immunoglobulin is essentially antibodies to various infectious agents such as E.coli. There probably aren't any Ebola antibodies in cow's milk, but the immunoglobulins do provide passive immunity to other infectious agents and also get digested for their protein content.
Glutamine, a nonessential amino acid (our bodies can manufacture it in most circumstances) becomes conditionally essential in some cases, such as extreme oxidative stress, strenuous exercise, burns and other injuries, cancer, and infections. Studies have shown a high rate of glutamine utilization and metabolism in immune cells including lymphocytes, macrophages, and neutrophils involved in reactive oxygen species innate immunity. Glutamine is one of the three amino acids, along with cysteine and glycine, which compose glutathione, the powerful antioxidant involved in containing the side-effects of ROS-based antigen lysis in these immune cells. Glutamine is described as a "glutathione-sparing" agent, helping to maintain adequate levels of glutathione by providing adequate glutamine for its production. Glutathione deficiency tends to arise with glutamine decline (e.g., with muscle wasting) and is best compensated for by administering intravenous or dietary glutamine. Studies have shown that glutamine administration leads to higher glutathione in patients undergoing surgery and reduced incidence of infections. Glutamine has a quantitatively important role in the processes of free radical and cytokine production, phagocytic activity, and secretory capacities of these cells, probably as a result of glutathione synthesis. During infection and inflammatory states, insufficient glutamine availability can become the rate limiting bottleneck for key cell functions, including phagocytosis and antibody production.
Glutamine is also the most important nitrogen transport mechanism in the body, circulating nitrogen-based metabolic fuel and waste products though the bloodstream, including ammonia to the kidneys where it's excreted as urine. The liver appears to be the other major organ of glutamine uptake in severe infection; studies have shown net hepatic glutamine uptake to increase by as much as 8- to 10-fold. Sepsis, or blood poisoning, is one of the critical developments of Ebola infection which often leads to fatality. Sepsis is accompanied by or causes rapid heart rate and breathing indicating blood acidification as well as the cessation of urination, which is consistent with the failure of nitrogen waste transport by glutamine. Therefore, glutamine sufficiency might ward off sepsis by eliminating blood toxins.
Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human body, but the heavy utilization during certain conditions including infection calls for direct supplementation. Hospital dietitians are aware of the value of administering glutamine in parenteral nutrition (IV nutrition) for critically ill patients, and especially for patients who have had intestinal surgery, multiple organ failure, or multi-trauma patients. Glutamine is a critical nitrogen source for rapidly dividing cells, such as those that line the gastro-intestinal tract, tissue repair, and those involved in the immune response. During critical illness the gut mucosal cells, deprived of glutamine, cease to perform their barrier function and allow entry of luminal toxins and bacteria directly into the portal bloodstream (bacterial translocation syndrome), worsening sepsis and encouraging opportunistic secondary infections.
Excess glutamine is usually stored in the skeletal muscles and severe glutamine depletion can cause muscle wasting, often seen in critical illness. Skeletal muscles exhibit a twofold increase in glutamine release during an infection, which is associated with a significant increase in endogenous glutamine biosynthesis. One of the reasons why the body increases muscle mass as a result of exercise is to store more glutamine, to respond to exercise-induced oxidation. The more muscle you have, the more glutamine you can enlist to fight an infection, so bulking up is a good immunity strategy. Get thee to the gym! The best muscle-building technique is high-intensity drop-sets -- doing a few reps near your maximum weight until muscle failure, then decreasing the weight by 10 or 20 lbs and doing a few more reps until muscle exhaustion, and so on, with every major muscle group. This forces your body to add muscle and therefore glutamine-storing capacity.
Whey protein contains upwards of 4 grams of glutamic acid per serving, which is a precursor along with ammonia and glutamine synthetase, to produce glutamine, which occurs in the cells lining your intestines (enterocytes and immune cells). These cells actually consume most of the resulting glutamine as a fuel, which is okay because these cells are the ultimate target of much of your endogenous glutamine production anyway. Many whey protein powder products also add supplemental vegetarian sources of free-form L-glutamine which does not have to be synthesized from glutamic acid or other glutamates. The theory is that this will be more bioavailable and easily absorbed for muscle building, which is the typical purpose for which these products are marketed. However, it is likely that the free-form L-glutamine and the glutamic acid are both largely consumed by the intestinal cells, leaving the muscles more of the endogenous glutamine synthesized in the muscles and liver, which otherwise would have had to feed the intestinal cells too. Either way, it can only help.
Other dietary sources of glutamine (and most other amino acids) in addition to whey protein include beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, cabbage, beets, beans, spinach, and parsley. Some people strongly believe that under normal conditions, excess glutamic acid, such as in the form monosodium glutamate (MSG), causes neurotoxicity (glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter) and issues such as headaches, epilepsy, and stroke. Glutamic acid, MSG, and L-glutamine are not the same thing, but can be converted between each other in the body according to its needs and there's no scientific evidence that dietary glutamic acid or MSG affects the brain in normally functioning people since glutamate cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier. It's likely that excess glutamic acid in and around the brain in a few bona fide cases is not a result of dietary excess, but a result of insufficient taurine, glutathione, and other antioxidants, perhaps from chronic stress, insufficient sulfur intake, acetaminophen overdose, liver failure, or other factors, combined with some kind of low-glucose environment forcing the brain to use ketones for energy, which causes the brain to produce glutamate to facilitate ketone metabolism. It's certainly not something that the vast majority of people should be concerned with. Inducing a glutamic acid deficiency to alleviate a different root problem is probably not a good idea even in a real case and is certainly a poor decision for a normal healthy person. And certainly in a condition such as Ebola infection in which you need extra glutamine because your body is rapidly using it up, you wouldn't want to shy away from it for fear of an overdose! Studies have indicated that there is no change in glutamine or glutamate across the brain during supplementation or even very large MSG doses, but your immune and endothelial cells need glutamate and glutamine desperately. So don't be afraid to take a daily (or more frequent when sick) whey protein isolate powder containing several grams of glutamate. It literally may save your life.
Based on the above recommendations, let's look at a summarized list of the top foods you should be eating for prevention and treatment...
Virus Prevention and Treatment Superfood Menu*:
Yogurt, milk, cheese, butter for probiotics, fat, protein, lactoferrin, minerals, B vitamins
Sauerkraut (authentic barrel fermented) for probiotics, manganese, vitamin C, B-complex
Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) for sulfur, vitamin C, and B-complex
Garlic, onions, mushrooms, asparagus, oats for allicin, quercetin, sulfur and other minerals
Fish, meat, broth, and eggs for fat, protein, minerals, and vitamins A, B, D, E
Goji berries, grapes (red wine), blueberries, cranberries, and other antioxidant superfoods
Legumes (peanuts, beans, peas, lentils) for fiber, minerals, protein, and B-complex vitamins
Carrots, bell peppers, and potatoes for A, B, and C vitamins, and minerals
Black pepper, dark chocolate, tea, capers, peppers for bioavailability enhancing polyphenols
Leafy green veggies (kale, spinach, collards) for minerals, polyphenols, and vitamins A & E
Nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, chia) for minerals, fiber, and vitamin E
Elderberry wine, tea, jam, cordial, and other preparations for RIP antivirals
Some example immunity superfood recipes might include:
Italian wedding style soup with a chicken broth base, beef meatballs, spinach, garlic, onions, carrots, and mushrooms, seasoned with black pepper, rosemary, and parsley.
Chicken and broccoli stir fry (use coconut oil, olive oil, or butter -- no soy or corn oil), with carrots and peppers, with an herb rice side that includes lentils and chia seeds.
Hearty chili with beef, pork, several kinds of beans, hot peppers, garlic, onions, and mushrooms. Perhaps a glass of turmeric/ginger milk to tame the spiciness.
Turkey and cranberry sauce with a side of gravy-smothered potatoes and steamed beans with butter.
Blueberries and raspberries in a low-sugar, whole-fat, live-culture yogurt (sweeten with stevia if needed).
Kielbasa and chicken simmered in a 50/50 mix of fresh red cabbage and barrel-fermented sauerkraut plus onions, garlic, dried cranberries, capers, and black pepper. A small glass of beer may go well with this. Beer, the darker and hoppier the better, contains lots of antioxidants, B-vitamins, and minerals. But be sparing with alcohol.
Western-style omlette with 4 whole eggs, onions, green and red bell peppers, cubed ham, Swiss cheese, milk-soaked chia seeds, thyme, parlsey, and black and red pepper, cooked in butter. Serve with a side of dark-roast coffee with cream (no sugar -- sweeten with stevia if needed).
Hearty steel-cut oatmeal with walnuts, chia seeds, cinnamon, ginger, milk, and some real maple syrup, which is high in manganese and zinc, but also high in sugar so just a little bit. Perhaps with a small glass of mulled cider.
Greek-style chef salad with thin-sliced spinach and arugula, crumbled feta cheese, red onion, ham and/or chicken cubed, fire-roasted red bell peppers, pepperocini pickled peppers, cherry tomatoes halved, grated carrots, several eggs halved, Greek olives, capers, dill, parsley, oregano, and cracked black pepper, smothered in a red wine, feta brine, and olive oil vinaigrette (no soy or corn oil based dressings). Small glass of red wine on the side.
Shirred eggs with smoked salmon -- Brie, eggs, heavy cream, and chives layered over smoked salmon and sauteed Swiss chard and shallots and baked for 20 minutes.
Chicken salad made with shredded chicken breast, low-sugar Greek yogurt (instead of mayo), sweetened with a cubed apple (including skins!) and grape halves, and including some green onions, mustard, roasted almonds, sea salt, parsely, dill, and cracked black pepper, served on a bed of spinach.
Grilled halibut topped with a kale-pistachio pesto (kale, basil, pistachios, garlic, lemon, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, and parmesan cheese blended), served with a side salad with a citrus vinaigrette. Small glass of oak-aged white wine would go well with this.
Spinach dip -- shredded, cooked, squeezed-dry spinach, minced garlic, dried chili peppers, water chestnuts, coriander, onion, black pepper, and turmeric simmered in low-sugar, whole-fat yogurt for 3 minutes, and then chilled. Served with slices of carrots, bell peppers, celery sticks, and broccoli for dipping.
Chicken marsala -- lightly breaded chicken breasts, garlic, and mushrooms cooked in chicken broth and marsala wine. Served with potatoes, steamed veggies, or herb rice that includes lentils and chia seeds.
Coleslaw -- shredded red & green cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, onions/scallions whisked together with low-sugar Greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard, with some shredded apple (with skins!) and maple syrup to sweeten. Salt and pepper to taste. Great for topping pulled pork, cold cuts, or a cheeseburger.
Pizza, heavy on the Italian seasonings and garlic.
* Note that the FDA does not consider food to be a "treatment" for anything. Make your own assessment.
In addition to food, there are some supplements you can take in each of three different scenarios. Right now, before any immediate threat of pandemic, there are some supplements you might take to ensure good health and a strong immune system.
once weekly, unless you have an energy drink habit, in which case you get enough
Then, in the event that you become fearful that infectious agents are in your immediate surroundings, i.e. people have gotten sick from Ebola in your town or neighboring towns (or even if there's just a bad flu going around), you might advance to a more thorough routine to maximize your immune response.
And finally, if you have a confirmed illness, whether Ebola or not, you should move to a treatment regimen which includes a significant increase in antioxidants and amino acids and the vitamins and minerals which support them.
** You are of course responsible for ensuring that this regimen is appropriate for your needs and won't interact with any other medications you might be on. Do not take this as medical advice. I'm not a doctor. Do your own research. Consult your own doctor for advice. This is just a suggestion for where to start your own planning. Also, supplements are regulated as food and, again, the FDA does not support the contention that they are medicine. Make your own assessment.
HOW TO AVOID EBOLA'S SOCIAL/GOVERNMENT IMPACTS
According to the Medical Managment of Biological Casualties Handbook, 7th edition, published by the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Ebola has the "potential for aerosol dissemination, weaponization, or likelihood for confusion with similar agents that might be weaponized" (page 104). Thus, even if we escape a natural pandemic, it's possible for a terrorist attack or false flag attack utilizing this dangerous pathogen. This could be in the form of an advanced delivery system or simply a martyr becoming self-infected and then traveling around, hiding symptoms, to act as a Typhoid Mary. Given the state of West Africa now in the throes of pandemic, it would be easy for anyone to visit and get a sample of the disease. That may in fact have been the reason for bringing some infected health care workers to America for treatment -- so that the CDC would have a good sample to work with. When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, Ebola is certainly a contender for the title.
Rahm's Rule, evinced by former White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, is that "You never let a serious crisis go to waste... it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." Of course this is not a new idea: H.L. Mencken observed almost a century ago that "the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary. Wars are no longer waged by the will of superior men, capable of judging dispassionately and intelligently the causes behind them and the effects flowing out of them. They are now begun by first throwing a mob into a panic; they are ended only when it has spent its ferine fury." This was true at Menken's time, for WWI. It was true when Roosevelt dragged us into WWII. We saw the Bush administration use the crisis of 9/11 to start a war they'd long wanted in Iraq. The Obama admin used the 2008 financial crisis to implement wide-ranging liberal economic policies including socialized health care. Et cetera. You can find plenty of examples throughout history of politicians accomplishing previously unpopular actions through crisis.
So it's actually rather curious that politicians today are downplaying the crisis. We were worked up over the relatively non-threatening bird and swine flu scares in recent memory despite their relatively low virulence and mild fatality rates. But now we face a real crisis, far from contained, against a pandemic with a fatality rate of 80-90% and which is spreading exponentially -- two new infections for every victim. The CDC quietly revealed in a report that they expect that from about 9,000 cases now, we'll have over 1.4 million infections by January (out of which, 1.25 million will die) in West Africa alone, even as the CDC chief is on television telling everyone that there is virtually no chance of this becoming a global pandemic involving Americans. President Obama has said that Americans have nothing to fear, that Ebola has no chance of taking hold on our shores, even though there's absolutely nothing stopping it, least of all government (non)efforts at stopping travel from Africa. It's patently absurd to think that a million and a half people will be infected and not one of them will spread the disease outside of Africa, especially since we already have cases in the U.S., Spain, Italy, and elsehwere, and there are only 9,000 infected so far. The exported cases will rise exponentially with the total cases. It seems like people don't understand exponential math. So assuming politicians have not miraculously reversed their general nature, then the only explanation can be that they're provoking irrational nonchalance so that the crisis becomes sufficiently large out of neglect to enable a kind of "opportunity" Americans today would not stand for. I'm talking about a radical rearrangement of society.
Why is this such a concern now? Besides the fact that we've already shown that politicians readily start genocidal world wars on false or weak pretexts, we need to be highly suspect because unless something changes, society as we know it will rapidly collapse very soon. We can no longer kick the can down the road. Our present economy is built on a house of cards. The Dollar currency has no inherent value and the Petrodollar on which it was once based has fallen apart. Its reserve status is all but evicerated as the major economic powers of the world move international trade to Yuan, Yen, Reals, Euros, and Rubles. The Federal Reserve is backed into a corner and are on the verge of having to reveal their abject powerlessness over monetary affairs. They've been threatening to raise interest rates for a year, but the $18 trillion federal debt cannot be financed at anything higher. And the further trillions needed to meet obligations to retirees collecting Social Security and Medicare simply don't exist, at least not without printing them out of thin air. And those obligations are rapidly coming due as Baby Boomers exceed their working age and start falling ill with age-related maladies. The bill will be in the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Meanwhile, the illusion of economic recovery afforded by rising Wall Street stock prices will evaporate when either the future of federal spending or the stability of the currency comes into question. But there is no political will -- under the status quo -- to change anything. We're headed off a cliff, but there are no publicly acceptable directions to turn. Hence, the only politically conceivable option is to change the status quo. And you do that with a massive crisis.
An Ebola pandemic certainly fits the bill in many ways. For one thing, when it hits and starts spreading exponentially, it will most certainly incite panic. But first it has to be in the public consciousness for awhile, ruminating and fermenting, and the global situation has to be sufficiently large (e.g. 1.25 million people dead in Africa by January) to seem insurmountable, such that when it hits, people will truly welcome a radical response to it. What kind of radical response? Well, we need only look at what they're trying out in West Africa to get a preview of what might be used here. For instance, the World Health Organization has announced that they will be rounding up Ebola patients and herding them into Ebola death camps to isolate them from the uninfected. They call them "community care centers", but only rudimentary care is given. They are basically just a place for people to go and die. And it's not voluntary. If you're deemed infected, you're going to the death camp whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, if you're not infected and you're sent "mistakenly", well, it's a death sentence. Oh, and guess who is building and operating the death camps? Why, it's the United States Army, of course! It will be soldiers, not doctors, operating these "care centers". So, who do you think would be called in to respond to a pandemic here in the United States? Hint: it won't be a civilian effort. You can bet that the first order of business in a full-scale Ebola response here will be the declaration of martial law. Why? Because that's the established and accepted way to deal with the pandemic already! As there is no vaccine or effective treatment, the conventional method of containing Ebola is isolating patients and doing contact tracing of people who might be exposed in order to lower the rate of new infections until finally the epidemic burns itself out (i.e. everyone who was infected dies). That's exactly what they've done in the Dallas case... isolate contacts until they're positive they're not infected. But in a full-scale pandemic, the only way to isolate possible contacts is through military-enforced quarantines, curfews, anti-congregation decrees, anti-loitering decrees, etc. And the people would, by and large, welcome it.
Update: on Sunday, Oct 19th, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had instructed the chief of U.S. Northern Command to prepare and train a team of “20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease and five trainers in infectious disease protocols” to be deployed to locations within the United States. While purposely benign sounding, note that this is a military, not civilian, team. No doubt they will be traveling with military escorts and, when necessary, initiate military-enforced quarantines.
You see how a crisis affords the government previously inconceivable options to exert power? Suddenly the federal funds rate and the Social Security retirement age and the federal debt seem like quaint topics. They can do anything with them and nobody will care because everyone is scared shitless about the pandemic. Executive orders will rain down like radioactive fallout if prior crises are any indication. Industries will be nationalized to facilitate delivery of necessities in the absense of free-market manufacture and transportation as a result of the martial law decrees. Health care will almost certainly be entirely socialized, wiping out Medicare in the process. The Federal Reserve will be authorized to print money without limit. The national debt may even be repudiated. And with the disproportionate affect of illness on the elderly, the Social Security problems may take care of themselves.
What if some people don't want to go along with all of this unconstitutional power grabbing? We know, as the U.S. Army manual states above, that Ebola may be mistaken for other weaponized biological agents, such as Anthrax. As such, a pandemic or even mock/exaggerated pandemic could be cover for instituting a politically-motivated cleansing using more reliable and predictable bioweapons against specific targets and blaming the pandemic. After all, if someone dies from Anthrax, it looks an awful lot like Ebola, and assuming there's even an autopsy (probably just a mass grave for all victims), it would be a government-paid one. So who could say otherwise? The cleanliness of it is that individuals can be targeted for elimination without actually spreading the pandemic disease. Does this sound too inhumane for our honorable public servants? Well, they have been dropping white phosphorus on "enemy" civilians for the past decade or two and targeting schools and weddings for drone strikes, so their credibility as decent human beings is desperately strained. And once people are dying in the millions anyway, the value of human life diminishes just from habituation. If the IRS can target political opponents for punitive taxation and jail during current circumstances, they can order assassinations "for the common good" when the shit hits the fan. Institutionalized evil tends to just keep pushing the envelope.
But let's say it doesn't even go that far. Let's say that the government finds its benevolent side and does nothing but act in the interests of everyone, including the protection of individual rights. The panic which follows the declaration of the (by this time quite out-of-control) pandemic will result in social chaos. Stores will be emptied of their contents, in many cases with bloody fights over the last scraps and looting of whatever can be found. Don't pretend this won't happen -- people fight to the death over holiday presents and loot and riot over sports games!People will shut in and self-quarantine, which is of course prudent, both to avoid exposure to the virus and also to other crazed people. But what that means is that manufacturing, transportation, retail, and even utilities shut down with no employees to run them. Most people who aren't prepared will be lucky to have one week's worth of food stored in their pantry. If electricity goes out and oil and gas deliveries cease, many will die from exposure, particularly during the winter. Out of necessity, millions of people will seek shelter at government "care centers", which of course will be doubling as quarantine hospitals. Quite likely, they will be insanely over-crowded and impossible to maintain cleanliness standards, and as such will likely be overrun by the pandemic. Again, think the New Orleans Superdome, but with people bleeding out of their eyes. And in the absense of consistent utility service, cities will be overflowing with garbage and feces. Just look at how the garbage piles up in a snow storm after a few days! Now imagine weeks or months without employees willing to drive garbage trucks or keep the pumps on at the treatment plant. There's no probable scenario in which a major pandemic doesn't result in the total breakdown of our fragile economy and the death of millions from that alone. No doubt there will be heroes who will sacrifice their own well-being to try to keep critical services going for as long as possible, but when those heroes get sick or the situation seems futile enough, civilized society will grind to a halt. Exposure, filth, and starvation are virtually impossible for most to escape, even if the government is doing everything within their power and more competently than ever before and with total selfless dedication to the people. If this goes south the way it has in West Africa, I'm afriad our first-world society will be no better capable of handling it than they are. And there won't be anyone sending help at that point either.
So how can you possibly prepare for all that? Best bet for those scenarios is to get far away from metropolitan areas so as not to be in one of the zones that is easily corralled and controlled or lost to lawlessness and vandalism and filth and contamination. The farther away from population centers you can bug out to, the more protected you will be from infection, mutating strains, panicking masses, and controlling governments. And prepare to be as self-sufficient as possible. Some kind of water collection and treatment method. Stored food and a garden. Sanitation, septic system. Self-defense. Wood and/or solar heat. And of course all of the medical and nutritional supplies discussed already. Below is a summary shopping list including most everything discussed above.
Once again the CNBC talking heads (and the government pundits) are confused about the economy. We keep developing all these nifty devices to make us more productive, but productivity remains below expectations... how can that be? Productivity grew at an annual rate of 1.8% in the October-December quarter, lower than the 3.2% gain the government had previously estimated. Productivity is the amount of production per hour of output, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). For example, if GDP is $10 trillion and people worked for an aggregate 300 billion hours, then productivity is $33/hr. If that's not growing at least as fast as inflation, then our population is becoming poorer.
Firstly, it's important to note that GDP is seriously over-estimated because inflation is tragically underestimated, because it would make the government and Federal Reserve look bad and decrease confidence in them and our economy if they reported that true inflation (using 1980 government calculation methods) is 10% and that we're still mired in a recession as real GDP is shrinking by 8% per year. The cognitive dissonance results from the fact that people both believe the government's numbers but also readily realize that prices are increasing at 10%+ per year (many sectors much faster).
So where's the productivity going? For one thing, the Federal Reserve is stealing it. When the Fed prints $1 trillion per year out of thin air, it doesn't actually make us $1 trillion richer. It just devalues everything else in the economy by $1 trillion. So everyone ultimately absorbs that loss, albeit disproportionately. The Fed balance sheet grows while our balance sheets shrink. And the Fed has been doing this since 2008 at this incredible rate, and at a slightly slower rate for decades prior. Who gets most of the stolen loot? Unproductive people like bankers and bureaucrats mostly, followed by defense contractors who make things that end up either blown up or in boneyards. The people who lose the most are those who are actually productive, building things that last and make us richer, like factories and other capital improvements.
Also, the government is stealing it and disincentivizing it. By putting onerous taxes on the most productive people and crippling regulations such as Obamacare and labor laws, the most productive among us, who pull up our overall average, just aren't all that interested in being productive anymore when they could instead be lounging on a beach somewhere or maybe move to Hong Kong or Singapore and be productive there instead.
So yeah, our smartphones, advanced production lines, online shopping, etc., are making us mildly more productive. But most of our productivity is being lost or stolen. And it's much worse than the government numbers reported because they're misrepresenting how bad inflation is. It's as if a common bank robber walked into a bank, helped himself to a million dollars, fudged the bank's balance sheet to show they never had the million, and then made a deposit of $10 and told the bank's customers and shareholders that they increased their balance sheet slightly.
Make no mistake: there is a crime occurring here, and if you're working and trying to make ends meet, you're the victim. Your salary is probably not increasing as fast as inflation is even though you're getting better at your job, and so your productivity is being stolen. Maybe let the pundits and politicians know that you know and that you're not going to take it anymore.
If you look up at that inflation graph, you can see the missing productivity. It's the difference between where inflation is reported to be and what it actually is. That's your missing productivity and why the talking heads are so confused.
What is free-market capitalism? Let's start with some basic definitions of the component parts of that phrase...
Free -- adj. Not imprisoned, controlled, governed, dependent, restrained, or subject to interference. The basic foundation of freedom is self-ownership. Nobody else has a higher claim on you than you do. You have total control and veto power over what may be done to you or requested of you by others.
Market -- n. A place, gathering, region, or opportunity for exchanging goods and services. A free market is one where exchanges are done entirely voluntarily, under no external force or duress. Whether an exchange occurs is entirely dependent on whether the parties to the transaction believe it is in each of their best interests. For instance, a dairy farmer may have lots of milk, but no bread, whereas the baker may have lots of bread, but no milk; milk is more valuable to the baker than the farmer because he has no milk, and bread is more valuable to farmer than the baker because he has no bread; so the two may exchange milk for bread and bread for milk, each coming away wealthier and better off than before the transaction. They feel no remorse over what has transpired and would gladly do it again, and probably will. A free-market hallmark is the double thank-you. The baker thanks the farmer for the milk while the farmer simultaneously thanks the baker for the bread. If an exchange is not free, but coerced, then one side leaves better off and the other worse off. You don't thank your tax collector, for example.
Capital -- n. An asset, advantage, marketable skill, or other form of wealth which can be employed in the production of goods and services. To continue our example, the dairy farmer would consider his farm, his animals, his milk bottles, his knowledge, and his labor as capital. He uses them to produce dairy products. The baker would consider his bakery, his oven, his stores of flour and other ingredients, his relationship with his suppliers, his knowledge, and his labor as capital. Without capital, neither the farmer nor the baker could produce their goods. There would be no milk and no bread.
Capitalism -- n. An economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated. What this means is that the farmer owns his land and cows and bottles and his own labor and expertise. Likewise, the baker owns his shop and oven and supplies and proprietary connections and his own labor and expertise. He is not an indentured servant or a slave or an employee of someone else, namely the government. This is contrasted with socialism/communism where the means of production are owned by the State. Under capitalism, the farmer and the baker invest the profits of running their business into the purchase of more capital in order to expand their operations and produce even more goods, if there is a market for them, or they may invest in ancilliary lines of business such as ice cream and pastries, if there is a better market for those goods. Supply and demand are the main arbiters of how future production should be best utilized. This was referred to by Adam Smith as the "invisible hand" of the market, whereby the self-interest (profit-motive) of producing the goods in highest demand or filling unmet niches tends to produce the highest collective good for society. Under socialism, the farmer and the baker only earn a wage and the State decides how capital should be best managed, usually for political reasons, independent of any market forces. Under socialism, the "invisible hand" of the market is ignored and thus capital is usually malinvested, producing supply shortages in some sectors, surplusses and waste in others, and unmet expectations all around.
Free-market capitalism then is an economic system where the means of production are privately owned and operated and the markets for goods and services are not restrained or controlled by outside forces. Individuals own themselves and the fruits of their labor, including the ability to amass capital in order to support their future production. Individuals guide all of their own productive activities without coersion and offer up their goods and services for voluntary exchange. Individuals are free to accept or reject any offer in the marketplace according to their own judgement. There are no limits or terms placed upon them by the State. Free-market capitalism is the de facto economic system in the absense of a government, and always has been. Unless an external structure is placed upon them, people naturally act according to free-market capitalist princples. It is a most natural form of human cooperation which maintains a fair and equitable balance of rewards achieved versus work and skill applied. For instance, as noted, the baker and the dairy farmer are both better off when they agree to trade with each other than if they did not. It provides them with a division of labor whereby both men don't have to try to both bake bread and raise dairy cows. They can concentrate on their most finely-honed trade but still enjoy the products of the other. And if the baker is lazy and only produces enough bread to buy his milk and feed his family, then his rewards are proportional to his efforts. Perhaps he enjoys painting or playing sports or sleeping instead of working harder than that. Those are his values and his choices. The dairy farmer may have other goals however, and he may put in long hours and develop a line of cheeses and yoghurt and maybe franchise his operations by investing in another farm run by an apprentice. The dairy farmer may therefore reap the rewards of his hard work and skill and become quite wealthy. In exchange for his wealth and what it can buy, he has given up the ability to enjoy painting or playing sports or sleeping long hours in the meantime. The result in each case is fair and equitable.
The proper role of government in a free-market capitalist system is to prevent fraud, force, or theft only, and not to otherwise influence voluntary commerce. For instance, the government should act to prevent or punish the baker from stealing milk from the dairy farmer, delivering day-old bread to the farmer when the agreement was for fresh bread, or blackmailing the farmer over an embarrassing incident he doesn't want to be publicly known in order to get a special deal on his milk. But the government should not dictate that the baker may only charge a maximum of one loaf of bread per gallon of milk, as that is something for the baker and farmer to work out between each other, based on their own individual values and governed largely by supply and demand. Nor should the government dictate the technique the farmer uses to milk his cows or the recipe the baker must use to make his bread. And the government certainly should not force the baker to license his oven or the farmer to register his cows. When the government starts interfering with capital, production, and transactions in this fashion, it is no longer free-market capitalism. When the government uses its monopoly on the legal use of force to govern capital, production, or transactions, the government has made a claim on the capital and the individuals which is above their own claim. They are no longer free, but in a way enslaved. This is a form of socialism, though it is generally considered a "mixed economy" or some form of regulated capitalism, such as merchant capitalism or feudalism or national socialism, where the State maintains the highest claim and veto power, but acts as though individuals or groups have ownership or at least guardianship so as to avoid the extreme inefficiency of complete centralized planning.
Above, I noted that free-market capitalism is a form of cooperation. This may seem contradictory to a popularly recognized element of capitalism: competition. But it should be recognized that competition and cooperation are not mutually exclusive in an economic system. Competition arises when there is more than one producer of a particular good or service. For instance, in our ongoing example, a second baker may move into town. Now, where before the original baker had a monopoly on the production of bread, he now has a competitor. The second baker will compete by either producing a higher quality bread, a different kind of bread, or charging a lower price for his bread. Any of these things -- better quality, more diversity, or lower prices -- are all good things. As long as Baker1 doesn't react by competing with Baker2 on one or all of these fronts, most of Baker1's customers will instead choose to buy bread from Baker2. Baker2 may then react to this surge in demand by raising prices, driving some customers back to Baker1 again. The voluntary transaction between producer and customer is a form of cooperation. They are each better for it. But the competition between multiple producers makes the deal a customer receives much better or at least broadens their choices. So, where the dairy farmer before was pleased to get bread in exchange for his milk, he now has the option of expensive sweet bread and cheaper sourdough bread. And as time goes on, competition may have the bakers innovating such things as sliced bread! Therefore, competition is a very important part of free-market capitalism, as it drives innovation and efficiency. In contrast, there is no motivation to innovate or improve efficiency under a socialist system because there are no independent proprietors who reap the rewards of their commerce. Under socialism, innovation and efficiency can only be driven by State mandate, which is why products in socialist economies are only developed to the point that they are good enough, and no further. The result is things like the East German Trabant, a notoriously small, dirty, ugly, poorly-performing automobile that remained largely unchanged for 30 years.
Free-market capitalism drives cooperation of other kinds as well, however. As I have already suggested above, perhaps the farmer is unsatisfied with the scale of his operation and wishes to expand. However, the farmer cannot manage two properties by himself. So, he cooperates with his apprentice, who wants to open his own dairy. In exchange for the up-front capital that the farmer invests as well as his ongoing expertise and support, the apprentice will pay the farmer a percentage of the profits of the new operation. This might be considered a franchise or a partnership arrangement. Another form of cooperation is raising lots of capital from many investors in order to engage in some new venture. Let's say that the people of our imaginary town are unhappy with the monopoly pricing of the dairy farmer. They believe that if they owned a dairy, they could produce milk at better quality and cheaper prices. But none of them have enough resources to open a dairy on their own. So what they do is form a corporation which is composed of a number of shares of stock. One person may only have very limited resources and therefore only buy a few shares, while his neighbor may be relatively wealthy and buy many shares. As a result, they can both participate in the new business, but their voting control over what the business does as well as the share of the profits that they receive will be directly proportional to the amount they originally invested (and put at risk for loss if the venture failed). It's all very fair and equitable. If it wasn't, they wouldn't agree to it. Under a free market, nobody is twisting anyone's arm to participate or not. So, under this cooperative structure called a corporation, many people are able to now fund a business which brings competition to their dairy market. If, as they expected, they are able to operate more efficiently, they will sell their milk and cheese and yogurt at a lower price and force the original dairy farm to either lower prices or improve quality or otherwise compete with them. And this competition drives continuing innovation and efficiency. And continually increasing efficiency drives economic growth by freeing up capital and labor to pursue new ventures.
In this light, I think everyone can agree that free-market capitalism seems like a pretty good system. It is voluntary, fair, equitable, efficient, and produces innovation and growth. So, why have various movements over the centuries challenged free-market capitalism? The primary enemies of free-market capitalism are those who do NOT want it to be voluntary or fair or equitable or efficient or innovative or growing. What possible motivations could people have for this?
Repressive political regimes do not want commerce to be voluntary because it reduces their ability to coerce the People.
Religious organizations and luddites do not want innovation because they fear it will make them irrelevant.
The poor do not like that capitalism is equitable because they are envious of what others have been able to accumulate.
The rich are against its fairness because they want to maintain any advantages that they may have created or been born into.
Environmentalists hate the growth that capitalism creates because they see people as a plague upon the planet.
Busy-bodies don't like capitalism because it's voluntary, and they want to dictate how everyone else behaves.
Sentimentalists don't like the efficiency of production because they value the old-style craftsmanship.
Lazy and undriven people do not like the equitable nature of capitalism, for they want to benefit from others' hard work.
Meek and ignorant people don't trust their own judgement to make good voluntary choices and thus want everything regulated.
Spiritualists feel like the profit-motive which drives capitalism is too materialist and spiritually impure.
Some rich people feel guilty about having things that others don't, and thus want to disperse (other people's) capital more equally, but clearly unfairly and inequitably.
Et cetera. I'm sure the list could go on and on.
Are any of these valid criticisms of free-market capitalism? I don't think so. From a moral perspective, nobody should ever have a higher claim over you and the fruits of your labor than you yourself have. Some people point out that we have a moral obligation to help those who are less fortunate. There may be some truth to that. However, that is entirely outside of the scope of the economic system. That's why charity has always been an individual or religious matter. No matter how needy someone may be, they do not have an inherent claim on you or your labor that is above your own. Only you can decide to voluntarily give of yourself and your capital. The needy do not have a right to steal it. And governments do not have a right to steal it in their name. Charity must be voluntary. And if people tend to value the truly needy less than their own luxuries, then that is a horrible testament to the people who allow it to occur, but I know of no society in which that has ever been the case. There have always been half-way houses and soup kitchens and hand-outs to beggars. The charity is there for all who need it. It may not be a pleasant or comfortable life to depend solely on charity, but then it really shouldn't be. To elevate the non-working destitute to a level of comfort higher than the hard-working would be counter-productive. Everyone deserves a second chance to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, and there is plenty of charity for that purpose. But nobody should live comfortably off of charity alone. A natural human sense of sympathy tends rightly to end as soon as it's clear that someone is taking advantage of it.
What about the view that some have lately that corporations are evil enterprises only interested in profits no matter the harm they may cause? Well any individual or organization which causes harm should be prevented from or punished for doing so by the government. Remember, that is the government's only role in free-market capitalism. Nothing about the nature of corporations themselves lend to any kind of abuse. Corporations are democratic structures for the voluntary cooperation of many individuals to achieve a larger objective and to reap the rewards of such in an equitable fashion. To the extent that certain corporations may become dominated by particularly ruthless stockholders and engage in harmful activity with the blessing of government, it is a failing of government, not of free-market capitalism. The main thing to remember in regard to government is that government is a necessary evil and a powerful tool which needs a constantly vigilent People to prevent its escaping the bounds of its charter. Government is not a benevolent force which can be trusted with our well-being. It is a magnet for corruption and tyranny that should only be empowered enough to maintain the rule of just law. We neglect the advice of our Founding Fathers in this regard at our own peril. It pains me to constantly see the red herring thrown about that "evil corporations" are the cause of this or that tyranny when the real culprit lies with corrupt government. The answer to government corruption is NOT to give them more power and more control by relinquishing our sovereign rights over our selves and our property. The answer to a corrupt government is to strip it of its unnecessary powers and decrease the amount of money that it controls. Usually the problem is that government has grown too big, has the power to grant too many favors, and controls too much money. Returning it to the powers delegated in its charter, the Constitution, is the way to solve the abuses of individuals and groups operating under free-market capitalism.
It should also be pointed out that capitalism is not a political philosophy. Capitalism can work under any political system which guarantees the freedom of its citizens. It is usually best practiced for this reason under a constitutional republic, but could also function in a pure democracy or even a benevolent dictatorship, if such a thing were truly possible. Free-market capitalism becomes very difficult to outright impossible in any situation in which the People are coerced or forced however. That's why dictatorships, plutocracies, oligarchies, monarchies, theocracies, and other forms of non-popular rule generally result in feudalism, merchantilism, socialism, communism, or mixed economies. Free markets and free people go hand in hand.
For more information on free-market capitalism, and some of the fallacies you may have heard (such as that war drives productivity), please read "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt and some of the other books I recommend following this article below.
As anticipated, quantitative easing (QE) has caused the monetary base -- i.e. total currency circulating in the public plus bank reserves -- to grow astronomically. From under $1 trillion prior to the 2008 crash, the monetary base now stands at about $3.6 trillion and continues to grow by at least $85 billion per month. Gold had mostly kept pace until this year. At the point where both the monetary base and gold had a bit more than doubled, the monetary base took off to the upside with QE4 while gold slumped from almost $1900 to $1200. Gold was driven down by continued proclamations from the Federal Reserve that quantitative easing was on the verge of ending at any moment, although that never actually materialized. In fact, with foreigners buying less American debt than ever and Baby Boomers beginning to liquidate their retirement accounts, the Federal Reserve has become the buyer of last resort.
So as long as the American government continues its massive deficits, which are only projected to grow ever larger with entitlement obligations to retiring Baby Boomers plus now Obamacare, then the Fed must continue monetizing that debt. Even if the Fed were able to pause on QE for a short time, there's no possible way that the monetary base can shrink, as that would entail the Fed trying to sell Treasury bonds in competition with the Treasury itself! As already discussed, the Treasury can't even find enough buyers in the market as it is. Interest rates would have to skyrocket to be able to sell into an environment where the Fed is not only no longer buying, but also selling. That obviously can't be allowed to happen, as the American government cannot afford to service a $17+ trillion debt at interest rates much above those of today (nearly zero). So the monetary base is not shrinking and it is most likely going to keep growing exponentially. And since gold is priced in dollars and tracks monetary growth so closely, gold is most likely going to shoot up to at least $2100 per ounce in the short term just to catch up to where it should have been. And as the monetary base grows, gold should continue to track it, short of temporary fluctuations caused by Fed jawboning.
That sets us up for an incredible opportunity at current prices. I highly recommend signing up for a BullionVault account right now and loading up on as much as you can afford in their Swiss vault (or Singapore or Toronto). You will probably never ever see gold this cheap again and will kick yourself for not taking advantage of this opportunity. As this global financial collapse progresses and fiat currencies go down the proverbial drain, physical gold and silver in your possession or in a responsible vault in a safe jurisdiction will be your only insurance and protection. Even if you can't afford to invest in much right now, you can easily set up a monthly BullionVault savings plan to buy as little as a gram at a time. And every little bit helps.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution and author of Federalist 58
I hear people saying "We want Congress to do their jobs." And likewise, "Obamacare is the law, it was passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court, so it has to be funded!"
Well first of all, let's try to establish what is Congress' job in relation to setting the budget and funding programs invented by prior Congresses. The source of all government power is the Constitution, so that's where we'll look to find out what Congress should and shouldn't be doing.
Article 1, Section 9 says that "No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law". An appropriation is money set aside by formal action for a specific use. And laws are only made by Congress, as declared in Article 1, Section 1: "All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives". This means that the President, who does not have any legislative powers and my not write law, may not expend funds until Congress says so. It is in fact Congress' job to make laws which appropriate money.
Moreover, Article 1, Section 7 says that "All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills". As budgets necessarily include revenue, the budget process starts in the House of Representatives. The Senate may not originate a budget bill, but only offer amendments.
James Madison described why this is important in Federalist 58: "The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse... This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure."In other words, it is Congress' job to withhold funding from government programs that they feel are unfeasible, unsound, or undesirable as per their constituents. This was designed into the structure of government from the beginning by the principle author of the Constitution.
Obamacare is not an appropriation. Obamacare is a regulatory framework which defines a bureaucracy and rules. As an analogy, if you were building a house, Obamacare is like the blueprint for the house. As the owner, after you've drafted and approved the blueprint, it is still your prerogative to hire a contractor or not. Just because you've approved blueprints doesn't mean that your control over the construction process has ceased. Maybe the contractor starts laying the foundation and then you decide that the plan isn't so good after all -- well, the contractor can't come back to you and say "you've already approved the plans, so it's all getting built". You're still in charge of your checkbook and can decide to scrap the project at any time. Maybe you lose your deposit, but you don't have to follow through with bad plans and build a house that you don't want. Likewise, Congress holds the checkbook for America and may choose to fund or not fund any regulatory schemes drawn up by prior Congresses.
This is why we elect a new Congress every two years. Sometimes previous ones designed idiotic plans and so succeeding ones need to put the kibosh on them. It's a part of our checks and balances.
Is Obamacare the law? Not under even a loose interpretation of the Constitution, but as per the Supreme Court, it is a statue which is being enforced as if it were constitutional by claiming that the fine which Obama said was not a tax is in fact a tax. But does that mean that it must automatically receive whatever appropriations the President deems necessary? Absolutely not. It is the Congress' job to only fund government programs that the current Congress believes to be in their constituents' best interests. Congress does not believe that Obamacare should be funded. Therefore, it shouldn't be. If you disapprove of that decision, there's another election in 2014. Elections have consequences, remember.
As recently as 2007, a Democratic majority in Congress pushed an effort to use their "power of the purse" to defund the Iraq War. In fact, Harry Reid -- who now calls Republicans "anarchists" and "terrorists" for wanting to defund Obamacare -- co-sponsored the bill to defund the war in April, 2007. The principle sponsor of that bill, Russ Feingold, said, "Congress has a responsibility to end a war that is opposed by the American people and is undermining our national security. By ending funding for the President's failed Iraq policy, our bill requires the President to safely redeploy our troops from Iraq." Reid said, "I am pleased to cosponsor Senator Feingold's important legislation. I believe it is consistent with the language included in the supplemental appropriations bill passed by a bipartisan majority of the Senate. If the President vetoes the supplemental appropriations bill and continues to resist changing course in Iraq, I will work to ensure this legislation receives a vote in the Senate in the next work period."
That legislation included the specific clause: "Prohibition on Use of Funds – No funds appropriated or otherwise made available under any provision of law may be obligated or expended to continue the deployment in Iraq of members of the United States Armed Forces after March 31, 2008." Remember that the Iraq War Resolution was law, passed by the House and Senate and signed by the President, just like Obamacare. How this 2007 legislation to defund the Iraq War (which would have actually put American troops in danger) was considered a proper use of constitutional power but the current effort to defund President Obama's failed health care policy opposed by the American people and undermining our economy is "irresponsible and futile" is beyond comprehension. If the Democrats had that power then, the Republicans have it now.
The House of Representatives proposed three different budget bills prior to the beginning of FY 2014 on October 1st, and all of them were shot down by the Senate Democratic majority. The Democrats refuse to recognize the House's prerogative to set spending levels and negotiate a budget, as per the Constitution. The House of Representatives (controlled by Republicans) is doing their job. The process is being held hostage by the Senate Democrats who refuse to adhere to Constitutional separation of powers in order to hold onto the Obama administration's signature legislation which was passed in the middle of the night only through bribery and coercion. It is fully within the House's authority to defund this law that never should have been.
The Labor Department said Friday that non-farm employers added 165,000 jobs in April and the U-3 unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.5%.
Unemployment rates have primarily declined because many of the unemployed have stopped looking for work. The government counts people as unemployed only if they are actively seeking jobs. Many people have stopped actively looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for which they would be considered and so they are not counted as unemployed even though they are not working and would like to be. 2.3 million people were marginally attached to the labor force in April, meaning they wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months, but are not included in the unemployment rate. A further 7.9 million individuals were working part time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job, but are not included in the unemployment rate.
In total, including children and retirees, almost 90 million Americans are not included in the labor force, which puts the civilian labor force participation rate at 63.3% in April, which is the lowest it's been since the 1970s. The civilian noninstitutional population -- i.e. those capable of working -- was 245 million in April and grows at a rate of roughly 0.9% annually. That means that approximately 184,000 people should be entering the labor force on a monthly basis just from population growth alone. But 13,500 more workers became discouraged in April than were added to the labor force through population growth. In other words, while 165,000 jobs were added, 197,000 people gave up looking for jobs or never bothered to start.
New York and California -- two states being touted as having decreased their unemployment rates the most in April -- were among the states with the largest reduction in the size of their labor force, implying that their lower unemployment rates came mostly from people giving up looking for work rather than becoming newly hired. Only Texas showed both a sizable increase in their labor force and a simultaneous decrease in their unemployment rate, indicating hiring occurring. Colorado, Virginia, and Missouri to a lesser extent showed true unemployment reduction. On a national level though, about 32,000 more people in April were without a job than in March. So to claim that the unemployment rate fell "to a four-year low" borders on Orwellian doublespeak. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who has been chairing the Eurogroup committee of finance ministers for two months, said that the Cyprus model (of stealing depositors' money to bail out banks) would be extended to other countries and situations to avoid the injustice of having taxpayers shell out for the risky behavior of bankers.
Firstly, aren't depositors and taxpayers largely the same group? And how are bankers suffering in this deal where depositors lose 40% of their savings and bankers keep their jobs? Wasn't the ENTIRE POINT of central banking meant to keep banks solvent without risking depositors' money?
That's how they were sold originally. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, before the age of central banking, individual banks printed their own bank notes (i.e. currency) backed by what was on deposit (usually gold). When they printed more notes than backing (in order to collect more interest on loans -- a practice known as fractional reserve banking), and people grew suspicious of this, it would cause a run on the bank whereby individuals tried to redeem their notes for actual money (gold). But since there were more notes than gold, some people could not be made whole and lost everything. The bank also crashed, of course.
Central banks were supposed to be a central source of bank note liquidity whereby all depositors would be paid in full even if a bank wildly over-lent notes into the economy. Therefore there would be no need to rush and get your money out and so there'd be no more bank runs. This was supposed to bring stability and prosperity.
Instead all it did was allow banks to wildly print money with no responsibility for the havoc that results. And in the end, we have a massive global banking system which exponentially inflated the currency supply, and now there will be a massive, global bank run. I hope you've got your assets somewhere safe...
Gold has traded sideways for over a year between the initial impact of QE2 and the start of QE3&4. Short for Quantitative Easing, QE is the Federal Reserve's policy of printing currency in order to inflate away our problems. QE started as a reaction to the 2008 housing bubble burst and financial crisis, but has become a way of financing our ever-growing federal budget deficits while foreign interest in our Treasury Bonds wanes, especially with record low interest rates. But each iteration of QE is less and less potent than the last, like an addict becoming habituated to drugs. As a result, the Fed has had to inject this stimulus more frequently and in greater amounts. Operation Twist had virtually no effect, so QE3, which purchases $40 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities every month, was implemented with no upper limit, meaning it would continue until some impact is felt. Then, with the announcement of QE3 having almost no impact on the markets, the Fed followed up almost immediately with QE4, which directly purchases $45 billion worth of long-term Treasury bonds every month with no upper limit! This binge will push monetization to over $1 trillion per annum until the market decides to inflate a sufficient bubble with this extra liquidity such that unemployment falls below 6.5%.
But of course this assumes that the action actually produces the desired result. What if ongoing monetization continues destabilizing markets and sends unemployment higher? That's what has historically happened in highly inflationary environments. In that case, we'll have ongoing QE virtually forever. But not really forever, because eventually the markets will lose faith in the currency and it will collapse. But before that happens, even the highly manipulated CPI must indicate price inflation over the Fed's target of 2.5%, right?
Certainly that will be the case, but does that mean the Fed will stop printing? Not hardly. The federal government currently has a budget deficit of around $1 trillion per year and they go into convulsive fits over even the thought of restraining future increases let alone actually cutting spending! But foreigners have significantly slowed their purchases of Treasury debt, with our top foreign holder, China, actually selling over $100 billion since 2011. The Federal Reserve is now the top buyer of Treasuries, outpacing all foreign central banks combined. The past few years have seen other countries unpeg from the Dollar and resort to regional currencies for international trade instead of using a single reserve currency. In some cases, particularly those under U.S. embargo, they have moved to gold as the mode of trade.
Moreover, what will happen when the present bond bubble bursts? Treasuries are vastly over-owned by private investors following the big scare out of stocks in 2008. But now that many stocks are offering better yields than bonds and seem likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future, especially once inflation expectations rise to meet reality, there will be a massive sell-off in bonds. And this will be especially true if the Fed lets interest rates increase even a little bit, which will trigger a decrease in bond prices. Normally, that would mean that interest rates would spike upward as people dump bonds at ever-decreasing prices. But not only would that be counter to current Fed policy, it would also bankrupt the U.S. government.
The Treasury currently spends around $250 billion per year on interest at an average rate of 2.2%. If rates rose merely to where they were 10 years ago at 5%, interest expenditures would more than double to over $500 billion per year. And if rates really took off, as they are wont to do during the popping of a bond bubble, they might reach the level they were in 1980 at near 14%, which would be a six-fold increase in interest payments, approaching $1.5 trillion per year! Obviously, since the government can't even pay its bills currently, this would all be in deficit, which means that the total deficit would climb to almost $2.5 trillion per year! And where would they get that money? They'd have to borrow it! From whom? The Federal Reserve! Obviously this would be quite the predicament, and should be avoided at all costs. Which means that the Fed would simply step in and buy all of the bonds being sold off by private investors, effectively monetizing a major chunk of the present national debt, upwards of $5 trillion. This may not seem as immediately bad as having to monetize $5 trillion every two years, but it will increase the monetary base by over 100% very quickly.
In other words, there's no way out for the Fed. They cannot cease QE in any politically acceptable way. Doing so would leave the government without the ability to fund its deficits and with interest payments exceeding the entire discretionary budget! It would also absolutely tank the economy which is currently floated on a zero interest rate policy. And that, of course, would bring forth calls for even more deficit spending as stimulus! Even if, miraculously, the unemployment rate fell to under 6.5%, it would still pop the bond bubble as people rush out of bonds and into stocks. So you could have the case where BOTH unemployment is under 6.5% and inflation is over 2.5%, and the Fed still won't be able to stop printing money! Tightening would mean bankrupting the government, which simply isn't politically feasible. We're at the point where we're monetizing our spending, which is the first step to hyperinflation. The only way out is austerity, and that's simply not going to happen here, as proven over the past several years of debt limit gum flapping.
What's worse is that the U.S. is far from alone in this predicament. Central banks the world over are monetizing their governments' spending and embarking on a world-wide competitive currency debasement! So we have few options for safe havens.
And so we must be resigned to much higher inflation and probably hyperinflation, not just here but globally, and that means that the number one inflation indicator, gold, is headed much higher. I highly recommend signing up for a BullionVault account right now and loading up on as much as you can afford in their Swiss vault. You will probably never ever see gold this cheap again and will kick yourself for not taking advantage of this opportunity. As this global financial collapse progresses and fiat currencies go down the proverbial drain, physical gold and silver in your possession or in a responsible vault in a safe jurisdiction will be your only insurance and protection. Even if you can't afford to invest in much right now, you can easily set up a monthly BullionVault savings plan to buy as little as a gram at a time. And every little bit helps.
Here we go again with the spurious claims about the invention of the Internet. President Obama declared that we all owe government a great debt for inventing it. Previously Al Gore took credit. Then on Monday, Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz gave credit to, among other people, Steve Jobs! And yesterday, Michael Hiltzik, author of a book about Xerox PARC, came back to the defense of the government's role in an article in the Los Angeles Times.
So what's the real story? There are elements of truth in each of these points of view, but strongly biased and selectively told. The early concepts of packet switching global networks were developed by Leonard Kleinrock of MIT (later UCLA), J.C.R. Licklider of BBN, Paul Baran of RAND Corp, and Lawrence Roberts of MIT in the early 1960s, but were independently developed simultaneously by quite a few others. It was a concept whose time had come, inspired by the telephone network (invented by Alexander Graham Bell and AT&T) and the need to send data between computers.
Licklider was appointed to the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, created in 1958) in 1962 and there he convinced some colleagues about the importance of his networking ideas. Licklider left ARPA, but the agency pursued his ideas primarily under Bob Taylor. An ARPA-sponsored study lead to a paper by MIT's Larry Roberts basically outlining an ARPANET plan in 1966.
1967 had Roberts discussing designs with ARPA. An Association of Computing Machinery symposium that year lead to the meeting of independent packet network teams from RAND Corp, the U.K.'s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), and ARPA. NPL that year created an experimental packet-switching network called NPL Data Network. NPL's Donald Davies coined the term "packet".
ARPA put out a Request for Quotation to build a packet switched network in 1968, and awarded the contract to BBN. BBN's ARPANET linked UCLA, Stanford, UCSB, and U of U -- each of which were independently working on networking research -- over leased AT&T lines in late 1969. This was a network, not an internetwork. Within about 6 months, MIT, Harvard, and BBN in Cambridge, Mass, were added, along with Systems Development Corp (SDC) in Santa Monica, which had previously connected to MIT via a direct (non-packet-switched) link.
Throughout the 1970s, other universities and corporations connected to this network along with a few government nodes to help participate in computer & networking research. Remote login, email, file sharing, and other network applications were developed by various members of this research community.
In 1973, Stanford's Vint Cerf & BBN's Bob Kahn -- influenced by Hubert Zimmerman and Louis Pouzin's CYCLADES network in France and Xerox PARC's Pup protocol -- developed an internetworking protocol called TCP. The term "internet" is coined at this point. Further reasearch funded by DARPA at BBN, Stanford, and University College London created further refinements and iterations which became the TCP/IP protocol we use on the Internet today.
BBN created the first commercial packet-switched network, Telenet, in 1974. In 1977, AT&T Bell Labs released the Unix operating system with its own networking protocol, UUCP. In 1978, Apple released a serial interface card to communicate with acoustic coupler modems for dial-up access. In 1979, USENET was established using UUCP, with "newsgroup" message boards for various topics of interest. IBM distributed systems with NJE networking protocol, on which BITNET was built in 1981, providing "listserv" email message systems and file transfer. CSNET was established as an alternative research and student-access network for those without ARPANET access in 1981. EUnet was created in Europe using UUCP in 1982. Various other commercial and non-profit networks sprung up around the world around this time as well, variously using UUCP, BITNET, or TCP/IP.
The government and civilian nodes of ARPANET separated into distinct but inter-networked networks in 1983 when TCP/IP was fully implemented. Although this wasn't the first internetwork by far, it formed the basis of the Internet as we know it today because all other networks and internets wanted to be connected to this foundation of universities and corporations. In 1986, the National Science Foundation created a non-commercial, research-only cross-country 56kbps Internet backbone called NSFNet to which many other universities and corporations connected.
In 1987, commercial UUCP and Usenet access was made available by UUNET. In 1989, commercial email relay with the non-commercial Internet was established with MCI Mail and CompuServe. The same year, ARPANET was officially decommissioned, with non-commercial Internet traffic then mostly on the NSFNet backbone.
The World (world.std.com) launched the first commercial Internet dial-up access in 1990. Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX) Association, Inc. was formed by General Atomics (CERFnet), Performance Systems International, Inc. (PSInet), and UUNET Technologies, Inc. (AlterNet), in 1991 to offer commercial Internet access as the NSF began lifting restrictions on commercial use of the NSFNet backbone. That same year, hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and the world-wide web (WWW) were released by CERN, where Tim Berners-Lee as a young student years before had made the first hypertext client-server communication. Also in 1991, Senator Al Gore introduced the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, signed into law by George Bush, allocating $600 million to accelerate development of gigabit networking. Throughout the early 1990s, multiple independent commercial networks grew to the point of internetworking independently of the NSFNet backbone and were able to offer cross-country commercial Internet services. Businesses and media began taking notice of the Internet and Web in 1993 with the Mosaic web browser (created by Marc Andreessen at the University of Illinois) and the first websites. Al Gore was a cheerleader of the "Information Superhighway" throughout this era, but did little to influence it aside from his bully pulpit.
In 1994, Tim Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a private, non-profit, industry-membership, international standards organization which helps to ensure the interoperability of the Web. By 1995, NSFNet was ended and all Internet traffic depended on commercial Internet backbones, with AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe offering dial-up residential Internet access. In 1996, 34 universities kicked off a replacement high-speed research-only network called Internet2 since now "the" Internet, i.e. Internet1, had become thoroughly commercial and launched into a dot-com bubble. The Internet subsequently included satellite links, cellular networks, and wireless mesh networks, and it continues growing as the technology and software and culture and usage patterns continue to evolve.
So, who invented the internet? The global free-market economy, with for-profit and non-profit corporations, universities, and government research institutions all involved in some way. There was no single inventor. It was an idea whose time had come, and many people on the leading edge of their fields helped to make it happen. Lots of people can realistically claim to be among the founders and early adopters, but nobody can claim sole credit for the Internet. It was not an invention of the government, but the government played a role, as it does in all things these days. But it was in no sense dependent on government. The Internet would have come into being even without the government or any of several other key players. Someone else would have stepped up instead. Indeed they did. Nobody was the only game in town. Government provided some funding, but the profit motive provided much more. The Internet has diverse roots throughout the global economy, and we should be thankful that governments for the most part stayed out of its way. For that is the real distinction -- although governments did impose a few limitations here and there, for the most part, the history of the Internet is unique in that governments did not try to control and regulate it to death. At least not yet.