Saturday, 11 May 2013

Gold Rush: what the Hoffman crew face

In the four weeks recuperating with a sling from shoulder surgery there's only so much reading and one-handed typing you can do; enter Gold Rush. I found out about this from a research fellow who's arrived from New York. For anyone not familiar (being British I clearly wasn't), this is a reality TV show on the Discovery  Channel following a team of guys from Oregon who pursue the American dream by heading to Alaska aiming to mine gold, with a slight obsession for a 'glory hole'. Inspirational stuff.

Todd Hoffman (centre) and his team head to Alasksa

At one point, Todd and his crew in Alaska seemed to be having issues with mosquitoes, and these could potentially carry arboviruses, (if there were any there to begin with). The water source was rightly another point of concern; it's clearly not just pure virgin meltwater up there.

Gold mining's a dangerous business: as well as the machinery, Alaska also has plenty of inquisitive bears. There's also the added danger of being in the wilderness. One of the prime causes for virus emergence is generally accepted as being encroachment into thus far untouched environments. Disturbing forests or other   
forms of wilderness bring humans into contact with nature, resulting in opportunities for spillover events to occur. As a fairly recent example, and sticking with the mining theme, miners in Uganda experienced an outbreak of Marburg haemorrhagic fever in 2007. In this case just four miners contracted Marburg virus, a very unpleasant virus related to Ebolavirus. As the authors point out though, as long as you go in the cave/mine without protection from the bat secretions (the suspected source of virus), then you'll be at risk. Is the risk worth it? That's going to very much depend on your perspective; a virologist in Scotland is inevitably going to have a different view than someone depending on the mine for their livelihood.

So Todd, if you feel the need to go prospecting in Africa, watch out for those bats.

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