The Black Death was no fun. Characterized by its telltale red, irritated lymph node swellings, and its ability to kill two thirds of all humans it infects within four days, bubonic plague, along with pneumonic plague and septicimic plague, its two bacterial cousins, ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, killing an estimated 25 million people in the 14th century, or roughly 60% of Europe’s population at the time.
Viruses like flu and small pox were partly responsible for the genocide of indigenous people the world over during European colonization, and the Spanish flu of 1918 infected 500 million people worldwide, killing anywhere from 50 to 100 million people. AIDS, first recognized in 1981, has killed an estimated 36 million people.
In the 90s, pop culture caught on to Ebola virus, an extremely deadly pathogen first noticed in what was then Zaire, giving us a pandemic-themed thriller with Dustin Hoffman and a monkey.
Since then, the world has faced some scares like SARS and cute flus like seal flu and prairie dog flu melted our hearts while trying to kill us, but no disease has come forward that will definitely kill you dead. Don’t worry, though, or rather be very worried, because that will change.
Here are four new potential plagues that will definitely kill you.
1. Unknown polio-like illness, California
Over the past 18 months, 20 children in California have been stricken with fever leading to localized paralysis of one or more limbs. The symptoms mirror polio, once a worldwide pandemic that has been eradicated everywhere, except for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria, thanks to a vaccination. However, tests for polio have all come back negative.
California lawmakers have urged the United States government Center for Disease Control (CDC), to investigate the outbreak (which you’d think they’d already be doing). Again, it’s an unknown disease isolated to California, seemingly rare, but it if you really think about it, it will definitely kill you.
2. MERS, Middle East
MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), is a distinct species of the genus Betacoronavirus first discovered in 2012. First confined primarily to Saudi Arabia, it has sickened 180 people, killing 77 (that’s 43%, which is crazy). MERS causes a lung infection similar to pneumonia, eventually leading to renal failure, and although it hasn’t spread widely, it did make its way to the UK last year. Last week, scientists linked the spread of MERS to dromedary (one hump), camels, where it has been occurring for some 20 years, according to reports. That said, two thirds of those sickened with MERS have had no contact with camels.
The takeaway? It seems innocuous, but it will kill you.
3. Avian flu, Asia
This one, hands down, will kill us all.
We all remember 2004’s H5N1 flu epidemic. Was that ever terrifying. This strain of H5N1 had a newly-evolved genotype virologists said developed from 1999 to 2002, and this new strain quickly got to work, decimating the poultry industries of Vietnam and Thailand, and spreading to 10 other Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea and China. This strain of H5N1 is panzootic, meaning it can infect both humans and animals, and be transmitted over wide areas, and that’s exactly what happened. In October of that year, disease experts found it to be far more dangerous than they had previously thought, and now rely on a containment strategy to delay avian flu instead of preventing it, because all hope is lost.
There have been 638 reported cases since 2003, with 379 deaths. The World Health Organization estimates the mortality rate for those contracting H5N1 to be 60%. If you contract avian flu, you are more than likely to die, so if you’re experiencing symptoms, you are already totally fucked.
4. Impending Zombie Flu, a lab in the Netherlands
Everyone loves zombies! Your little sister, all your old college friends, even your grandparents are transfixed to shows like The Walking Dead, and soon they’ll even be able to live it!
That’s right. In 2013, in the journal Nature, flu researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands said they would be engineering a new strain of H7N9 avian flu, making it more powerful than any other flu. The same team, led by Ron Fouchier, developed a new strain of flu that was communicable between new humans, a capability that strain did not naturally have.
Well, rest assured. No doubt, a strain of hybridized rabies-flu is sitting in the same lab that would create an airborne, virulent transmission causing uncontrollable zombie-like symptoms. Most likely a sample is sitting in a test tube in a stand which is perched perilously close to the edge of a counter, and a drunk janitor is coming through to mop up, whistling, staggering, elbows swinging.
I’d say stock up, but no amount of shotgun shells and bottled water will save you this time. Have fun!