Where to Live XII – Virus and Vector Edition

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The recent ebola virus breakout reminded me that location is good for more than just keeping zombies at bay:

UNITED NATIONS – Health ministers from 11 West African countries began a two-day Emergency Ministerial meeting in Accra, Ghana, Wednesday amid concern the outbreak of the Ebola virus that began in Ghana could spread across their region as an uncontrolled pandemic…


[The Telegraph] The world could be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” where people die from treatable infections because deadly bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, David Cameron has warned… Overuse of antibiotics for minor infections has resulted in bacteria becoming resistant to medicines.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time and evolution before those diseases we conquered so effortlessly during the past century developed an end-around to modern medicine. “For every action…” and all that.
But it’s not even really flus and infections that ought to concern us, at least not on an SHTF scale. Sure, the Spanish Lady flu* of the 1920s killed 50 million people as it burned its way around the world, but that was a world of nearly 2 billion people. It was nothing like the great plagues of Europe, that killed sometimes half the people over very large geographic areas.
And they say Ebola ought to concern us, though only a few thousand died during its most recent, well below 1% of those killed by Spanish Lady. While Ebola is a headline disease, it’s not really a story, I don’t think. At least not yet.
No, after meandering through some older science and disease stories, it was this one that I expect to see cause real trouble sometime in the perhaps near future:

A controversial scientist who carried out provocative research on making influenza viruses more infectious has completed his most dangerous experiment to date by deliberately creating a pandemic strain of flu that can evade the human immune system.
Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has genetically manipulated the 2009 strain of pandemic flu in order for it to “escape” the control of the immune system’s neutralising antibodies, effectively making the human population defenceless against its reemergence…

This is not a rant against science any more than it is a rant against the Japanese or Wisconsin, it’s just a recognition of the fact that if something is possible, someone** is going to do it. And they are not terribly careful with their creations. That means that eventually a manipulated disease is going to get out of a lab, perhaps accidentally, perhaps on purpose.
It might even be a sexy cross of influenza and Ebola. And it’s going to rip through the world’s population. This flubola will be designed to spread quickly and perhaps even to do the most possible damage to humans that you can imagine. It might be released by the Russians in a bid to depopulate Ukraine, it might be created by the Klan to finish off Africa, who knows? And who cares, for the results will be the same…
So when it does happen, where should you be? Where should you live? Before he was reined in by his handlers, former Vice President Extraordinaire*** Joe Biden let the truth out of the bag: don’t be anywhere where lots of other people are in close quarters. Not subways, not planes. I would add, not in a city with a million people sniffling and sneezing all over water fountains, buffet guards, and restroom door handles, either.
When a perfect virus-and-vector is released into the world, there are no guarantees it won’t come your way, no matter where you live, no matter what you do. But there are reduced odds. And as with any number of other threats, the best place to avoid a pandemic is to be where lots of infected people aren’t sneezing all over the egg rolls.
* apparently it kicked off right here in good old Kansas. You’re welcome.
** probably someone in a lab coat, in all fairness. That is why I expect that, once the world finally recovers, the mere wearing of a lab coat will be a capital offense.
*** The thing about Biden is that he always told the truth. At least when he knew it, which was seldom.

El Borak is an historian by training, an IT Director by vocation, and a writer when the mood strikes him. He lives in rural Kansas with his wife of thirty years, where he works to fix the little things.


  1. Amen, we’re overdue, even if nature takes care of it rather than science.
    Fort Riley: “home of the Spanish Flu!” Apparently started there 1917, travelled to Europe, got worse, came back to the states in 1918. I have a relative who we thought died from it in 1918, but he died way too early in the year – before it had returned. Oddly, it was more virulent/better killer in healthy young adults than in kids & old people.
    don’t worry – the Kansas wind will blow those germs all the way to Canada:)

  2. When I (lived and) worked in the festering cesspool of humanity known as the DC Metro Area, we had the SARS virus scare.
    As head of the IT department I had to work up the contingency plan for how to deal with percentages of workers too sick to come into the the office or afraid to leave their homes. It started off reasonably enough; a handful of workers out sick, then 5-10%. Soon things started to get out of hand and we were quickly up to over 50% of employees out sick or working from home and management wanted to know if we had enough bandwidth to handle that many people connecting remotely.
    I let them know that long before we hit this point society had started to collapse, the market for their obscure financial tool had gone out of business, and I had left for a part of the country much more sane and rational. They weren’t impressed.
    I live in the sane and rational area now anyway.

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