Forget about preparing for zombie outbreaks. We should all be preparing for Disease X instead. Each year the WHO meets to create a list of diseases that pose a serious international public health risk “because of their epidemic potential and for which there are no, or insufficient, countermeasures.”
Many of the diseases listed are routine players, such at Ebola, Lassa Fever, SARS, and Zika. But this year, the WHO added “Disease X.” According to the WHO, “Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease…”
John-Arne Rottingen, a scientific adviser to the WHO committee says:
“Disease X could be be sparked by a zoonotic disease – one that jumps from animals to humans – and then spreads to become an epidemic or pandemic in the same way H1N1 Swine flu virus did in 2009…As the ecosystem and human habitats change there is always the risk of disease jumping from animals to humans. It’s a natural process and it is vital that we are aware and prepare. It is probably the greatest risk.”
So what does the WHO recommend? Sure, worrying helplessly might seem fun, but they suggest better diagnostics, existing drugs & vaccine improvements, and more research.They do not explicitly suggest a zombie preparedness kit, but you could certainly use your imagination for what Disease X may turn out to be, and plan accordingly.
The CDC is preparing to downsize its work in 39 countries starting in 2019. Much of the funding for the CDC’s work that helps developing countries detect and respond to outbreaks comes from a five year emergency package that Congress approved as a response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The money is set to run out in 2019, and there are currently no plans to replace the funding. If you’re thinking this sounds like the start of any number of scary outbreak movies you’d be right. According to the Atlantic:
“These changes would make the world—and the United States—more vulnerable to a pandemic. “We’ll leave the field open to microbes,” says Tom Frieden, a former CDC director who now heads an initiative called Resolve to Save Lives. “The surveillance systems will die, so we won’t know if something happens. The lab networks won’t be built, so if something happens, we won’t know what it is. We can’t be safe if the world isn’t safe. You can’t pull up the drawbridge and expect viruses not to travel.”
The CDC will narrow its focus to 10 “priority countries.” They are India, Thailand, Vietnam, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Guatemala. Countries where the CDC is scaling back “include some of the world’s hot spots for emerging infectious disease, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda and Congo.” According the The Washington Post:
“The risks of deadly and costly pandemic threats are higher than ever, especially in low- and middle-income countries with the weakest public health systems, experts say. A rapid response by a country can mean the difference between an isolated outbreak and a global catastrophe. In less than 36 hours, infectious disease and pathogens can travel from a remote village to major cities on any continent to become a global crisis.”
Let that thought fester in your head as you work on your bunker.
Rats get a bad rap, and deservedly so. They’re gross and carry a number of diseases.
And they’re infamously known for contributing to the spread of the Black Death, a plague pandemic that terrorized Europe in 1347 for five years and killed more than 20 million people.
Now, a new study is suggesting the possibility of a different scenario. The study proposes that human parasites like fleas and lice (also gross) were responsible for not only the spread of the plague, but the spread of a number of outbreaks from the 1300s to the 1800s (known as the Second Pandemic). Some historians have long believed rats were being unfairly blamed. According to the National Geographic:
For one, the Black Death tore through Europe far faster than any modern plague outbreaks. In addition, “rat falls” precede some modern outbreaks, but medieval plague records don’t mention rats dying en masse…If fleas and lice picked up the plague by biting an infected human, they could potentially hop onto a person in close quarters and transmit the disease.
The new study evaluated which model “best matched mortality patterns from nine different European plague outbreaks from the Second Pandemic. To their surprise, they found that in seven of the nine cities they examined, the human-parasite model more closely fit mortality records than the rat-flea model.”
What does this mean for the rats? Will their reputation be softened by this news? I lived for a number of years in a city fondly known as “Allston Rat City” nicknamed for its truly giant rats. On my street, rats were routinely run over, progressively flattened by cars until they became one with the road. It’s a cool party story I like to pull out. Everyone who has lived in Allston has at least two rat stories. I’ll spare you the second one.
The federal government recently lifted a ban on funding experiments that deal with lethal viruses. Work focused on altering germs to make them more dangerous can now proceed, “but only if a scientific panel decides that the benefits justify the risks.”
Some scientists are eager to pursue these studies because they may show, for example, how a bird flu could mutate to more easily infect humans, or could yield clues to making a better vaccine…
The pathogen to be modified must pose a serious health threat, and the work must produce knowledge — such as a vaccine — that would benefit humans. Finally, there must be no safer way to do the research…
Critics say these researchers risk creating a monster germ that could escape the lab and seed a pandemic.
If you think this sounds like the start of the next 28 Days Later movie, you may be right. Now is a good time to brush up on your “In Case of Super Contagious Disease Outbreak” plans and it wouldn’t hurt to consider a “Zombie Plan of Action” as well. The CDC has you covered:
Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse
Ok, not all of us. Just a lot of us. Yes, I know it seems like we’re in the middle of a Sim City game where someone has decided it would be fun to unleash multiple hurricanes (not actually a Sim City disaster feature), fires, and floods all at once, but in the spirit of doom, we should also talk about the next pandemic.
According to this article “one of the biggest threats out there is one of the oldest: infectious disease, which can emerge naturally or be human-made, as in a case of bioterrorism.”
Gates has repeatedly stated that he sees a pandemic as the greatest immediate threat to humanity on the planet.
“Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year,” Gates wrote in an op-ed for Business Insider earlier this year. “And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10-15 years.”
Another point to let fester in your mind:
“We are coming up on the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic,” he told Business Insider. “We’ve been fortunately spared anything on that scale for the past 100 years, but it is inevitable that a pandemic strain of equal virulence will emerge.”
Let’s just be grateful we haven’t had to deal with these robot monsters yet. All in good time.