Are We Ready?

A virus can start as innocent as a cough. It can progress to chills and a fever. But unless someone identifies it as fatal, the public may treat it as a simple case of the sniffles.

Are we ready?

SARS
SARS

If we’ve learned anything from past outbreaks, we would know we’re never quite ready for what would come next when a contagion strikes. Having lived through the SARS epidemic when it hit Toronto in 2003, I saw firsthand what unpreparedness and paranoia could do to a city.

Let’s talk a bit about this for Monday Mayhem.

At the time, I was taking the train in and out of the city. My commute was an hour one way. During the course of the ride, people would come and go, and not a day would go by that the front page didn’t feature the latest SARS mortality rates. The public was on edge. During my rides, a noticeable silence had hit commuters. Many were afraid to speak, as they didn’t want anyone to think they were possible carriers. Who knew if the virus was airborne?

Some riders wore masks, while others sat in different places. The ends of the train, where the single seats rested next to the doors, became gold. They were away from everyone, and the doors would make for a quick exit—just in case. When people boarded, those seats became the first ones to fill.

And if you had coughed, the dirty looks would have carried until the following week where you either had decided to transfer to another car or find yourself another train.

In Canada, SARS had 251 cases with 44 being fatal. That is an 18% fatality rate, the highest in the world. China had 5328 cases, but their fatality rate was an astounding 6.6% (Source: WHO).

Are we ready?

Ebola
Ebola

In recent weeks, the Ebola virus has once again resurfaced. Between 1976 and 2012, 2328 reported cases affected regions as far as Juba, Sudan and Orientale Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 2014 alone, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have had 759 confirmed cases so far (Source: WHO).

What makes this outbreak so different is its reach. No longer limited to remote areas, it is now surfacing in populated areas where air travel is common. The CDC says the incubation period can be anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure. Symptoms include fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and lack of appetite.

The virus works by suppressing the body’s natural ability to clot thereby liquefying organs.

I can only hope we are ready.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What precautions have you taken to prevent the spread of germs in your household?

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17 thoughts on “Are We Ready?

  1. Hey I’m all for being clean with washing hands etc. but I don’t go to the far reaches of having anti-bacterial stuff, we still need to allow ourselves to contact the basic stuff that makes us sick just to keep ourselves building immunities. As they say there are many that are becoming more and more resistant to the antibiotics we keep manufacturing.
    Although I understand when you get really sick, antibiotics are sometime the way to go.

  2. Fortunately ebola is not airborne and transmission is through contact with body fluids from infected individuals. Still it’s a scary virus and pretty much a death sentence to those who contract it (around 90% fatality I believe).

  3. I agree. In my creative writing class I allow students to listen to music using headphones for their 20 minute warm up time. They often wonder why they can’t listen to music through the entire class. I don’t let them because it really breaks down our class community. No one talks to one another. People aren’t joking or laughing. No one yells out, “Hey, what are those holes in your shoes called where the laces go through? I need to know for my story.” It’s just a quiet, lonely classroom when everyone is plugged in.

  4. Well, this is terrifying. Epidemics always make for good stories. Who is immune? Is there a cure? How do people handle their own paranoia?

    Great post, Jack! I’m going to go wash my hands now. 😉

    • Posts like these are ALWAYS interesting. AND they make me want to carry Lysol disinfectant wipes & anti – bacterial gel everywhere.

    • Viruses and pandemics are fascinating reading. I’m never quite sure what to expect when going through the list of symptoms. Ebola is especially scary–but I’ll leave that for another post! BTW, the trick to washing your hands is singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. By the time you’re finished, all the germs should have washed away! 🙂

  5. If you want to read a really good fictional account of an outbreak…good in the sense that it gives you an accurate sense of how long it takes to understand the outbreak and the steps health and government officials go through…check out Daniel Kalla’s novels “Pandemic” and “Resistance”.

    Sure, there is a sensational aspect to the central stories that feeds on commonplace paranoias about Big Pharma/Biotech and bioterrorism, but the plots really revolve around the race between CDC epidemiologists to understand the disease and the spread of the disease itself.

    It significantly benefits from the fact that Kalla is an emergency room physician and so understands much of the front-line activities that would accompany such a problem.

    http://danielkalla.com/

  6. First, the Ebola looks like Mickey Mouse. Second, I feel our tolerance for mortality rate is ridiculously low. Let’s be honest, a virus killing 44 people and only infecting 251 is astounding in and of itself. Often times they only kill because people (statistically more often men) say, “It’s nothing, I’m fine.” Can’t fix stubborn.

    Third, check out Division. It’s a game based on a highly contagious virus with a high mortality rate striking during Black Friday. Pretty cool game. I think as more and more people go towards plastic, it wouldn’t work (it’s heavily dependent upon the exchange of bills), but still very cool.

  7. I almost died from rare ecoli around 20 years ago. Not only did it mess up my metabolism, but activated a hereditary gene in our family, CLL. It is the smallest of things that can wipe out the human race

  8. & so many virus are becoming resistant to even the most potent antibiotics, except perhaps Cipro ( The ” nuclear option ” for antibiotics ). Very much a cause for alarm, & some people are made as ill by Cipro as by any virus. I took a treatment of it & was made very sick from a single pill.

    • All viruses are resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria is becoming resistant primarily because we take antibiotics when we have viruses. But yes, Cipro is a nasty little thing.

  9. No precautions beyond being alert and not taking any risks. Having a toddler means coughs, sneezes, and the usual maladies are rather common. His school always sends warning notes if a kid on his bus or in his class had some contagious like strep or pink eye. Still, it’s hard to know what to do when you’re in public. Is a sneeze the cold, a reaction to the sunlight, allergies, or the beginning of an epidemic that you’ve just been pulled into?

  10. SARS was indeed scary because strong healthy people were dying, 44 of them. However no ones cares about the more than 300 that die every year from the regular old flu because it is rarely fatal with the healthy. Panic kills more people.

  11. I had ecoli recently and it freaked me out not knowing where it came from. Another big virus on the loose is scary.

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