A couple of blips in the news lately have me thinking again about one collapse scenario: the “bio-pocalypse,” or collapse by disease. The particular news stories, for the curious, are two negative ones (here and here), and one positive (here).
Of the two ‘negative’ ones, I would probably rank them backwards in “severity” than your average Joe-on-the-street: the measles outbreak I find far more worrying than the bubonic plague. There are multiple reasons for this. First, we’ve actually got a pretty good handle on the plague. The medical research community has been studying y. pestis (the bacterium that causes plague) pretty attentively for some time now, and we’ve got some good treatments if it’s caught early. Also, while we don’t hear much about it, there are thousands of cases worldwide each year, and it’s endemic to some areas (even in the U.S.); no sudden epidemics noted.
Second, since plague is bacterial and measles is viral, the treatment level for them (post-contraction) is different. If you’ve contracted the plague, we can put you on antibiotics (more on these in a moment); if you’ve got the measles, we can make you comfortable and hope you pull through.
Third, the measles “outbreaks” were completely preventable, and resulted from what I consider human stupidity. There is no credible source indicating that “standard” vaccinations, which have been given for decades, have the types of side-effects the vaccine denialists are claiming. (They base most of their claims on a report from one researcher; he withdrew the paper, and its findings have been thoroughly refuted.) Even if there was anything to them, the side-effects would crop up on the order of something like one in ten thousand (.01%) at most, compared to the .3% (up to nearly 30%, depending on circumstance) mortality rate of getting the disease. Add in the degree of contagion—very high from the disease, nonexistent from the vaccine—and there’s no reason not to get the vaccine, and very good reason to get it.
The FDA’s new antibiotics restrictions in meats are a good sign—a step in the right direction. Overuse of atntibiotics has placed a strong evolutionary pressure on pathogens, leading to the rise of multiple different resistant strains (MDR and XDR TB are the ones that scare me). Their use for livestock shouldn’t be as prevalent as it is—and certainly not for “non-therapeutic” reasons. (If the animal is sick due to a bacterial pathogen, then yes, by all means, use the antibiotics. Don’t just toss them wholesale into the feed “just because.”) This is even without getting into the whole “feedlot vs. free-range” debate (and even if you want to go there, please keep this in mind).
If you want to get scared about pathogens, I’ve always recommended the viruses—particularly the various influenza strains; the “exotic” hemorraghic fevers are great for scary movies (Andromeda Strain, anyone?), but generally not widespread enough to tickle my panic button.
In my world, I rate the “coming pandemic” at about a two, on the one-to-ten scale (ten being most likely). What say you, readers?