When Your Dystopian Sci-Fi Starts Coming True

In order to fully explain my current depth of freaked-outedness, I’m going to have to refer to a whole lot of other websites and links.  Please click them. They are part of the story.

I’m also going to have to delve into some backstory that never really gets talked about in Salvaged. It’s what happened 6 years prior to the story, what created the world they inhabit.

Research, Backstory, Timeline and World of Salvaged

The original “What if…?” question that sparked the “Crash world” where Salvaged takes place happened in Bio 101 my freshman year of college. When we looked at this graph:

World Population Growth Chart

 

We looked at the graphs of other populations – particularly the ones where illness kills everyone off.  Humans are imminently adaptable though, and we keep outsmarting illness.  The first time I researched this world, I got stuck, because the CDC and the WHO had all this stuff under wraps. I couldn’t find a chink in the biological armor to exploit to kill off a bunch of humans.

Several years later, I chatted with an old high school friend on Facebook. Just so happens he does statistical analysis of epidemics for the WHO and CDC – he was working on H1N1 at the time. I asked him what it would take to break their careful systems of control. “Swine flu, without a vaccine. Anything that spreads like the flu and kills healthy adults would do it.”

It turns out that the only pandemics  that have ever spread worldwide have been influenza strains.  (Everything else is limited to a particular subset of population, and therefore considered an epidemic.)  So, I made friends with the flu. I ended up reading a book about Maurice Hilleman, the man who created the MMR vaccine and the modern flu shot. The following quote is from pages 18-19 of a book called Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases by Paul A. Offit, M.D.

“[Maurice Hilleman] noted that only three types of hemagglutins had ever caused pandemic disease in humans: H1, H2, and H3.  Hilleman believed that the future of influenza pandemics could be predicted from past pandemics:

  • H2 virus caused the pandemic of 1889.
  • H3 virus caused the pandemic of 1900.
  • H1 virus caused the pandemic of 1918.
  • H2 virus caused the pandemic of 1957.
  • H3 virus caused the pandemic of 1968.
  • H1 virus caused the mini-pandemic of 1986.

Hilleman saw two patterns in these outbreaks. First, the types of hemagglutins occurred in order: H2, H3, H1, H2,  H3, H1.  Second, the intervals between pandemics of the same type were always exactly sixty-eight years — not approximately sixty-eight years, but exactly sixty-eight years. … Using this logic, Hillemen predicted that an H2 virus, similar to the ones that caused disease in 1889 and 1957, would cause the next pandemic – a pandemic that would begin in 2025.

The timeline that I created for the Crash world was based on this prediction.  Just prior to that 2025 flu season, I created an epidemic of salmonella, attacking the eggs in the US, and limiting the supply and trust of the flu vaccine. So, when the H2N1 strain of influenza hit my fictional world, I created “Pandemic #2” (shortened to P2 in the slang of the books) by giving them a great big flu strain and no flu shots to prevent it.

The 1% of deaths due to the flu was enough to cause pandemonium. It generated quarantines. Fear and quarantine generated riots – where people gave one another the flu. I broke utilities and supply chains, and I killed a lot of fictional people with starvation. Then there were the “secondary deaths” the deaths of people who in our current society have treatable conditions – asthma, allergies, cancer, heart disease, diabetes – who no longer have access to their much-needed medicines.  All of these are pretty realistic breakdowns if a large chunk of the population were to die.

Then I needed the virus that scares the bejeezus out of everyone in Salvaged. I needed a virus that no one knew how to handle. That was hard to survive. I created an epidemic I called “E4”. As far as they know, it’s zoonotic, and passed to humans from household pets.  In 2012 there were about 83.3 million pet dogs in the US, and 95.6 million pet cats.  With a population of about 316.1 million in the US, that’s one pet for every 2 people – and that doesn’t include feral and stray animals.  We have a pet overpopulation problem just as much as we have a human one – and my manufactured population crash with P2 would exacerbate that.    I add to the drama a little bit by giving members of my world the standing order to euthanize pets.

The deadly E4 is purely fictional. Plot-wise, I needed something people could live through in the hospital, but that would kill them if they stayed home. I made a version of the norovirus that both makes it impossible to stay hydrated without an IV of fluids and lasts in the body for 2 weeks.

If you glanced at the timeline linked above, the other thing you’ll see is that I give them an annual seasonal flu (only P2 is really horrible), and a few more epidemics. With the exception of E4, the rest of the “Es” are pretty much the standard outbreaks that we already have – listeria, e. coli, salmonella. With food shortages and wonky supply lines, I figure food poisoning won’t be going away.

Oh, and I made the center of the government in Atlanta. I did this because this is where the CDC is. But I also did it because we have such ridiculous suburban sprawl, I figured it had to be good for something.

My final science fiction assumption was this: Technology will only advance in the areas it needs to. The reason we don’t have flying cars is because we don’t need flying cars.  Technology only advances where money and consumer desire chase it. So, the only gadget that exists in my 2031 world that does not exist today is this: a field test kit for people who help others to know which Es and Ps the person has had, currently has, or has not yet been exposed to.  The kit is based off of a basic blood glucose monitor – a finger prick on a test strip, and a quick readout of what’s going on in a person’s immune system. This would be necessary for first responders and for quarantine agents, as well as hospital workers. Everyone needs one of these things in Crash world.

Today’s News and Why I’m Freaking Out 

Of course I’m going to talk about Ebola.  It shares a lot of traits with E4. First, it’s zoonotic – so much so that they euthanized the nurse’s dog in Spain because they don’t know whether humans can contract it from dogs or vice-versa.  They are enacting quarantine protocols in the US, Spain and Africa because of the ebola virus.  It has a lot of the same symptoms as E4 (fever, vomiting, diarrhea) and is actually a little bit scarier in terms of what it does to the body. This is bigger and badder than the big bad in my book. But it’s actually playing out pretty much the way I predicted it would. Right down to the fact that Tulane is creating a finger-prick ebola test.  (Technology follows need. Every time.)

While I’m at it. let’s chat about P2, shall we? Airborne, innocuous-seeming, deadly.  Now, check out enterovirus D68.  To adults, it feels like a cold. It spreads like a cold. This is a crappy cough that you take some mucinex around and go to work anyway.  It’s also pretty deadly to kids with asthma and respiratory problems, killing some within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.  It’s also causing weird paralysis that no one can really figure out.

The Good News

The good news is that we can prevent my apocalypse!  Okay, we can’t do anything about the H2 resurgence in 2025 except get our flu shots. But to avoid spreading EVD68, we can all wash our hands a lot and stay home when we’re sick in the first few days of having cold symptoms.  We can use those ubiquitous hand sanitizer stations at grocery stores and other public spaces.

For Ebola, we can not panic. People who are working with those patients can follow safety protocols. And people who are quarantined can respect the need to lay low for a little while to prevent further infection.  I am pretty proud that Atlanta teams respond to the incoming patients with such aplomb, and that we haven’t had any instances of healthcare workers getting infected here.

Meanwhile, I’m going to work on perfecting the home remedy recipe that keeps people alive through E4 without a hospital. I hope you like the taste of oil of oregano.

 

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5 thoughts on “When Your Dystopian Sci-Fi Starts Coming True

  1. I think now that we know it is in the US people will hopefully pay a lot more attention to their behavior than they did with Patient Zero that died. Maybe this will make Corporate America rethink it’s stupid call in sick policies and actually give sick days again. One can hope anyway. Great post!! Loved seeing the amount of research you do!

    • I have an excel spreadsheet somewhere with the exact number of people who died from each cause. Also, did you know that in previous flu outbreaks, about the same number of women and men died from the disease? (I had to make the gender balance accurate!)

  2. Although it is good news that no health care workers died in Atlanta, it’s quite scary that we lost a health care worker in Dallas/Fort Worth. Freaking out with you! 🙂

    • I know that 2 health care workers were infected, but I think both of them are still in treatment right now (not lost by a long shot)!

      (and thanks for the tip on the remedies book!)

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