Preamble to Chapter 5….

…which means I’d better get writing, because it stops here!  Apart from Bullbar Ben, that is.

The searchers were stymied for the moment.  They had more or less achieved their primary objective, but the almost-as-important secondary requirement was presently unfulfilled, and perhaps unfulfillable.  The non-acquisition of the body was an annoying loose end: who was to know that the city had become such a third-world environment that the operatives would end up fighting over the target with greedy civilians?  Who would not only interfere with the disposition of the target, but incapacitate the operatives to the point of forcing a withdrawal, and abandonment of the target.  And then steal all the articles required for a clean conclusion to the leak.  Heads were metaphorically rolling as communications raced at lightspeed around the planet.  And of course, there was the minor additional problem that no-one wanted to face, of the few that were aware of it.  The problem that the target may have brought more than just information back with him.  And that it might already have spread.  Surveillance was stepped up, and the watchers waited.

 *

“There is something very frightening about the really good killer viruses.  No, not the messy killers like Ebola: that is all gore and theatrics; in any case, hardly anyone really ever dies, relatively speaking.  No, the really good ones are the stealthy kind – the ones that quietly get into you, and as quietly, but insidiously and inexorably, kill you.  Like influenza – which has killed millions, and continues to strike down the old, the young, and the simply unlucky.  Like the mind-altering Borna virus.  Like the hantaviruses which cause pulmonary syndrome….

 The problem with viruses as weapons is virulence, and delivery.  Why doesn’t influenza kill a lot more people?  Because it isn’t particularly virulent, compared to Ebola, even though it spreads very efficiently through a human population.  Why doesn’t Ebola kill everyone?  Because it can’t get to everyone – it only infects those unfortunate enough to come into contact with the natural host (very few); those who tend the sick (a few); those who dress the corpse (several more)…and those who go to bush hospitals, where poor hygiene and re-use of needles almost guarantee its spread.  Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, which is nearly as lethal, kills more people – but only those who get in the way of a short-lived particular growth stage of a particular tick, if it is infected.  Or the odd abattoir worker, who is unfortunate enough to handle an animal at a particular stage of disease.

  The good spreaders seem not to kill so well, and the good killers seem not to spread so well.  This explains why influenza kills a few tens of thousands of people a year, while it infects many millions, while the extravagantly messy ones like Ebola have probably only ever killed a few thousand people, throughout recorded history – but that is over 50% of those who ever caught it….

 Of course, if Ebola could spread like influenza, or ‘flu could kill like Ebola…but I would stick with a quieter killer, personally. 

Something like a hantavirus.”

 – Excerpt from third-year medical virology lecture notes, Dr Bruce Davies, Western Cape Medical School.

 

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About Ed Rybicki

Ed is a 60-ish virologist and biotechnologist, formerly a Zambian and presently a South African. He is into family, virology, biotechnology, science in general, science fiction in particular, photography, red wine, wearing loud shirts, 70s rock, blues and smooth jazz...and telling stories. Sometimes, interesting ones. And writing for his own amusement.
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