Killers on the loose: the deadly viruses that threaten human survival
Could the next big animal-human disease wipe us out?
Friday 28 September 2012
Astrid Joosten was a 41-year-old Dutch woman who, in June 2008, went to Uganda with her husband. At home in Noord-Brabant, she worked as a business analyst. Both she and her husband, Jaap Taal, a financial manager, enjoyed annual adventures, especially to Africa. The journey in 2008, booked through an adventure-travel outfitter, took them to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to mountain gorillas. While there, the operators offered an optional trip, to a place called the Maramagambo Forest, where the chief attraction was a peculiar site known as Python Cave. African rock pythons lived there, languid and content, grown large and fat on a diet of bats.
Most of the other travellers didn’t fancy this trip, Taal told me. “But Astrid and I always said, maybe you come here only once in your life, and you have to do everything you can.”
Inside the cave, the footing was bad: rocky, uneven, slick with guano. The ceiling was thick with bats, big ones, many thousands of them, agitated at the presence of human intruders. Astrid and Jaap kept their heads low and watched their step, trying not to slip, ready to put a hand down if needed. “I think that’s how Astrid got infected,” he told me. “I think she put her hand on a piece of rock [covered with bat droppings]. And so she had it on her hand.”