Five diseases that could end the world.

The setting for my ‘Westmen’ series is Britain after a global viral apocalypse, where a civil war rages between those who’s grandparents were vaccinated, and the descendants of those who survived despite not being so lucky.

Obviously the ‘Wave virus’ in the book -which took three zeros off the world population-is fictional, but in this blog I look at some of the ways it could happen for real.

Those who stayed awake in biology at school will know that diseases split into two main causes viruses and bacteria. There’s also fungal attack and parasites but those two are unlikely to cause a global epidemic.

Viruses in particular mutate so something that is relatively harmless now could change to be deadly. The ‘Wave virus’ in my series is a Rabies virus that has mutated to spread through the air. Unless you’ve been living down a hole for the last ten years you’ll be aware of the risks around Influenza or Ebola. The risk is much wider than that. The World Health Organisation has recently added “Disease X” to their hazard list to symbolise the possibility of a new or evolving disease coming over the horizon. Mostly there is no cure for viral diseases (with the possible exception of antivirals like tamiflu.) Treatment boils down to support, hydration, isolation, and hoping scientists can come up with a vaccine before the disease spreads out of control.

Bacterial diseases can mostly be cured with antibiotics, but increasingly there are resistant strains appearing, which can only be treated with new synthetic drugs. Medical science is in a race to create new anti bacterial drugs to stay ahead of resistance. Should they fail we could be headed back to a dark age where you can die from getting a cut finger.

So without further ado, five diseases that have the potential to make the ‘Wave’ look like a winter cold

Monkey Pox : “They say it started when someone fucked a monkey, if that’s true I hope the sorry bastard had fun because he certainly shafted the rest of us.” So one of the main characters says about ‘The Wave’ in Rapax. Monkeypox is one of those things that could really start like that, (and some third world countries have ‘monkey brothels’ – no I don’t want to think about that either). Although Smallpox has been eradicated , Monkeypox still persists in certain areas of Africa. Humans catch it by taking in bodily fluid from monkeys, either by deviant means or more likely from eating bush meat. (there’s also a strain that you can catch from Prairie dogs in the USA). Mostly its not as serious as smallpox, unless it is. There’s currently no vaccine and the smallpox vaccine doesn’t work against it.

Marburg Viral Disease: Everyone knows about Ebola, both from the outbreak in west Africa in 2015 and from books and films like Outbreak, Hot zone, and Executive Orders. However it is just one of many Viral Haemorrhagic fevers. Marburg spreads much more easily from person to person than Ebola and has a fatality rate of 50% (or between 22% and 80% in various outbreaks). The most recent outbreak was in Uganda last year. Currently there is no vaccine.

Meningococcal meningitis: This is a bacterial disease that attacks the brain lining and brain stem. It spreads in the same way as the common cold through coughs and sneezes, personal contact, and door handles, money etc. It can cause severe brain damage and is fatal in around 50% of cases if left untreated. There is a vaccine, but it only works as a preventative. Pretty much treatment is via antibiotics, but there are resistant strains emerging. There are around 30k cases per year, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. If there were to be an epidemic in the developed world there is severe risk that it could spread faster than a vaccine program could be rolled out.

Plague : This is a bogeyman that most people have heard of but few understand. It comes in two forms. Bubonic which is spread mostly by rat fleas and isn’t a serious threat in the developed world. And Pneumonic which spreads person to person through coughs etc and can be fatal in 18-24 hours. Bubonic has a 30-60% fatality rate, whilst the fatality rate for Pneumonic is 100% if not treated with antibiotics. Vaccines exist but only in small quantities as they are reserved for health workers. Antibiotic resistant bubonic forms have been encountered, but have so far responded to synthetic treatments. An antibiotic resistant form of Pneumonic is the worst case scenario that no one wants to think about.

MERS/SARS : Middle eastern respiratory syndrome and severe acquired respiratory syndrome. These are both Coronaviruses, a large family of viruses that also includes the common cold. The worrying thing about the emergence of both of these is the rate at which they evolved and where they came from. It is thought that MERS was caught from camels, while SARS originated from civets, however WHO say that the “route of transmission is not clearly understood”. Currently SARS/MERS doesn’t transmit easily person to person, but that has the potential to change. No vaccine is available, the fatality rate is about 35%, and it is thought that antivirals such as Tamiflu would be ineffective in most cases.

Now if you do want to scare yourself further, go to the WHO or CDC websites and check out emerging diseases. I have only covered the very tip of the iceberg.

However as they used to say on Crime watch “Don’t have nightmares.” Statistically speaking you are more likely to die putting up a set or curtains than you are to contract any of the above…

.unless that changes.


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