|Avian flu, via Wikimedia Commons
#1 is Influenza. We haven’t seen a pandemic flu in North America in a while--long enough to have lost our collective fear of one. The 1950’s saw the last. There are many different influenza viruses, and some have a low fatality rate, less than 2%, and some have a much higher rate, 70%. In most cases, the elderly and children are most vulnerable.
I chose this disease for the pandemic in my thriller in part because most of us hardly think twice about it. The word “flu” doesn’t send us into a tizzy the way “Ebola” does. Some of us get the vaccine, but many do not. We’ve grown used to the annual talk about flu and vaccines and tend to tune it out, despite that this virus kills thousands or tens of thousands times the people as Ebola does every year.
The flu type I chose for my novel Crow Vector, HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, H5N1), is frightening--not just to me, but to the experts. With a 69% fatality rate right now, even with treatment, and almost no capacity at all to create vaccines for it, if it explodes out of China and starts moving from person to person (rather than only bird to person, as it stands), we are all in deep trouble.
The flu generally kills via filling the lungs with fluid. While it has no brain damage beyond the usually temporary confusion we feel when we have a high fever, going from having to cough several times a day to gasping for air to needing a breathing tube before you die is something I’ve don’t want anyone to have to experience.
Because the killer version of the H5N1 virus has already been manipulated in the lab to make it able to pass easily from person to person, in the 2014 Rotterdam experiments and elsewhere, we know with 100% certainty that it’s weaponizable. Not only is it, those experiments made it clear to anyone with the will and technique exactly how to turn it into a human pandemic. So... yeah. Scary disease indeed.
|1950's flu epidemic; patients overwhelming medical system
And this concludes my six-part series on scary infectious diseases. Return to Part I to see some runners-up. For me these are the scariest five:
- Hemorrhagic fevers