Sunday, July 6, 2014

Where to Live XII - Virus and Vector Edition

A couple articles this week reminded me that location is good for more than just keeping zombies at bay:
UNITED NATIONS – Health ministers from 11 West African countries began a two-day Emergency Ministerial meeting in Accra, Ghana, Wednesday amid concern the outbreak of the Ebola virus that began in Ghana could spread across their region as an uncontrolled pandemic...
and
[The Telegraph] The world could be "cast back into the dark ages of medicine" where people die from treatable infections because deadly bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, David Cameron has warned... Overuse of antibiotics for minor infections has resulted in bacteria becoming resistant to medicines.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time and evolution before those diseases we conquered so effortlessly during the past century developed an end-around to modern medicine. "For every action..." and all that.

But it's not even really flus and infections that ought to concern us, at least not on an SHTF scale.  Sure, the Spanish Lady flu* of the 1920s killed 50 million people as it burned its way around the world, but that was a world of nearly 2 billion people.  It was nothing like the great plagues of Europe, that killed sometimes half the people over very large geographic areas.

And they say Ebola ought to concern us, though only 500 people have died from it in its current outbreak, 1/100th of 1% of those killed by Spanish Lady. While Ebola is a headline disease, it's not really a story, I don't think. At least not yet.

No, after meandering through the disease stories of the week, it was this one that I expect to see cause real trouble sometime in the perhaps near future:
A controversial scientist who carried out provocative research on making influenza viruses more infectious has completed his most dangerous experiment to date by deliberately creating a pandemic strain of flu that can evade the human immune system.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu in order for it to “escape” the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies, effectively making the human population defenceless against its reemergence...
This is not a rant against science any more than it is a rant against the Japanese or Wisconsin, it's just a recognition of the fact that if something is possible, someone** is going to do it. And they are not terribly careful with their creations. That means that eventually a manipulated disease is going to get out of a lab, perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose. It might even be a sexy cross of influenza and Ebola. And it's going to rip through the world's population.  This flubola will be designed to spread quickly and perhaps even to do the most possible damage to humans that you can imagine. It might be released by the Russians in a bid to depopulate Ukraine, it might be created by the Klan to finish off Africa, who knows? And who cares, for the results will be the same...

So when it does happen, where should you be? Where should you live?  Before he was reined in by his handlers, Vice President Extraordinaire*** Joe Biden let the truth out of the bag: don't be anywhere where lots of other people are in close quarters. Not subways, not planes.  I would add, not in a city with a million people sniffling and sneezing all over water fountains, buffets, and restroom door handles, either. 

When a perfect virus-and-vector is released into the world, there are no guarantees it won't come your way, no matter where you live, no matter what you do.  But there are reduced odds.  And as with any number of other threats, the best place to avoid a pandemic is to be where lots of infected people aren't sneezing all over the egg rolls.

* apparently it kicked off right here in good old Kansas.  You're welcome.
** probably someone in a lab coat, in all fairness. That is why I expect that, once the world finally recovers, the mere wearing of a lab coat will be a capital offense.
*** The thing about Biden is that he always tells the truth.  At least when he knows it, which is seldom.

2 comments:

  1. We should probably just make a vaccine for sinus infections. Just saying.

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  2. Weapons grade small pox. Incredibly easy to make in a lab--reportedly has been done in the old Soviet Union and duplicated at least on paper in our own CDC labs. But where, oh where has even the original strain of USSR small pox gone since the break up? Hmmmmm. Weapons grade anthrax was developed by the Japanese and dropped on Chinese villages during WWII. And then there are those bringing back the plague. If you think about it long enough, you'll never leave home and only eat out of your own greenhouse for the rest of time. A very lonely existence--if you can call it one at all.

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