A mysterious and highly fatal disease was described in Nigeria two weeks ago. The first wave of reports suggested major trouble: 24 cases, 18 of whom had died precipitously from neurologic collapse: confusion, blindness, coma, death. A more recent report put the dead at 23 with 10 alive and receiving treatment.
Given the short collective international memory for cataclysmic infectious diseases in the West African region, the WHO and the media ran in with fear and trembling. Tests for Ebola proved negative, as did sophisticated molecular tests for several other transmissible diseases. Yet the facts were brutal: sudden illness, high death rate, sketchy facts in the Nigerian state of Ondo, just east of Lagos, along the coast of the southern Atlantic.
Just as the story seemed ready to heat up and scare everyone in the public health community senseless, the WHO announced that the problem was not an infection at all, but rather a tragic exposure to a pesticide, some sort of weed killer likely spread across the fields and crops of the region.
With a collective exhalation of relief, attention moved on—to presidential elections and Bruce Jenner and most recently, the overwhelming tragedy of the Nepal earthquake.