End of the World Pandemic: Superbug Survival

Filed in Pandemic, Theories & Predictions by on April 10, 2012 3 Comments

 

How likely or unlikely is an end of the world pandemic? How many humans might survive an outbreak of infectious, deadly disease? What might their world be like?

Pandemic: Fact or Fiction?

There is no shortage of movies, books, TV episodes, music and artwork addressing world-ending pandemic outbreak and survival. Books like Stephen King’s The Stand and movies such as Warning Sign portray the near-end of the world by pandemic in chilling ways. Yet, we know novels and movies are fictional. What about reality?


The reality of pandemics is more disturbing of course than fiction. Most people are familiar with the Black Plague (or Bubonic Plague) that occurred in the mid 14th century. Although it receded and re-emerged for centuries, It’s estimated to have killed about 25 to 75 million in Europe at its height – at least 1/3 of the population in 5 years. Smaller outbreaks continued to claim victims for centuries. The disease did not

disappear as a powerful threat until the 17th century.

More recently, an outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 is estimated to have killed up to 100 million people. It is believed to have killed more people in total than WWI. Small pox and Tuberculosis are two other historic deadly pandemics.

In the past few decades and years, Avian Flu and Swine Flu (H1N1) caused widespread sickness throughout the world. There were an estimated 18,000 or so deaths caused by Swine Flu and approximately 351 deaths attributed to Avian Flu between 2005 and 2012.

In 2012, as many as 35 million or more people are estimated to be infected with HIV; 1.6 to 1.9 million died in 2010.

Global Epidemic

As frightening as “organic” or naturally-occurring pandemics may seem, an even more terrifying possibility is the deliberate or accidental release of a killer organism into the population. Research facilities (including those run by governments around the world) house deadly micro-organisms. You can read more about bio-terrorism and the threat of biological weapons here.

An epidemic is a specific definition of a disease that is widespread, so it affects many people. An outbreak of a disease is defined as an epidemic when each infected individual is infecting more than one other person. This means, the number of infected individuals grows exponentially.

Epidemics might be restricted to one locale, or they may spread globally. A global epidemic is referred to as pandemic. How fast might a deadly disease spread globally these days? Based on the speed of modern travel, it’s estimated by scientific study that a deadly organism can be spread globally in nine hours.

Today, many biologists believe is it not a matter of “if” a devastating global pandemic will occur, as they already have. It’s more a question of “when.”

Pandemic Scenarios: What to Expect 

What could you reasonably expect to happen during a pandemic scenario? What’s “possible,” and what isn’t?

Unlike other end of world scenarios such as nuclear holocaust, a pandemic is likely to be even more difficult to evade for survivors, especially at first. Micro-cellular organisms are invisible enemies, after all. Bacteria or a virus can exist unseen in water, food, soil and even the air we breathe. Humans and possibly even other species may carry and spread an infectious organism. Self-quarantine may prove effective in the case of environmental toxins or unlivable conditions. Yet knowing when “the coast is clear” may prove impossible in the case of pandemic.

Witch-hunts and Deadly Violence

Consider, too, scenarios that unfolded during pandemics in the past, and even to some Witch Hunts - Stakes in Medieval Miniatureextent in recent times. Witch-hunts have commonly led to discrimination and social ostracism to start, but violence and even the murder of innocent “scapegoat” populations can and have occurred long term.

Today, HIV/AIDS stigma exists around the world, and involves everything from discrimination and avoidance to compulsory HIV testing without prior consent or confidentiality, violence against and the quarantine of HIV infected persons, and, in some cases, the loss of property rights for family members following death.

During the Black Plague, Jews were falsely accused of causing the Black Plague as an attack on Christianity. Between 8,000 and 14,000 were burned alive or hanged, despite the obvious fact that Jewish people died of the plague right along with Christians. Witch-hunting and ensuing violence is fueled by fear and obsession with survival during pandemics. This type of violence is much less likely to be suppressed by police or government forces when widespread death overruns the population.

Keys to Pandemic Survival

Knowledge about how the disease is transmitted, how symptoms manifest themselves, how long it takes to kill hosts and any potential treatments or vaccines will likely present the best chance for survival.

Existence in small, isolated communities may turn out to be the fate for many who survive a world-ending pandemic. Avoidance of sickly newcomers to isolated communities may effectively restrict the spread of disease if it’s transmitted by humans. However, only larger communities with bigger populations are likely to accomplish much in terms of defense, agriculture, construction and re-population long-term.

Should a vaccine happen to be developed for the deadly disease, this would obviously be the best course of action to ensure survival. However, anyone and everyone is likely to be trying to obtain it. Especially when quantities are limited, attempting vaccination may put one at risk for violence.

Whether you survive through vaccination, immunity, recovery or isolation, the microorganism responsible for pandemic is likely to run its course and die out when host organisms no longer exist.

However, diseases may remain dormant for many years in genetic material. This means survivors may carry the disease in a dormant state, including humans and other life-forms. It’s quite possible, an end of the world scenario may appear to “end,” only to resurface as a deadly killer years later.

 

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