The committee to advise the President first met approximately one month after the virus first appeared.
There had been more than 400 cases and 50 deaths so far, mostly split between Frankfurt, Germany, and Caracas, Venezuela.
Patients presented with fever, cough, and confusion. In a disturbing number of cases, encephalitis – swelling in the brain – caused patients to fall into a potentially fatal coma.
Researchers had been able to isolate what appeared to be a new pathogen, a disease-causing agent.
The virus seemed to be a new type of parainfluenza virus from a family of respiratory viruses that normally cause mild illnesses like the cold. Scientists studying the disease couldn’t identify where the virus fit in the parainfluenza family, so they referred to the pathogen as parainfluenza Clade X.
Health authorities said Clade X, which appeared to spread by coughing and to take up to a week before patients started showing severe symptoms, had pandemic potential.
This situation described here is fictional.
On May 15, when the “Clade X” simulation was played out real-time, the people acting out the scenario were the sorts of individuals who’d be responding to this situation in real life.
The players included former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Indiana Representative Susan Brooks, former CDC Director Julie Gerberding, and others with extensive experience.
Yet by the day’s end, representing 20 months after the start of the outbreak, there were 150 million dead around the globe, and 15 to 20 million deaths in the US alone.
With no vaccine for the illness yet ready, that death toll would have been expected to climb.
It’s part of a scenario created by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, designed to see how real policy experts and government decisionmakers would respond to a similar situation.
The scenario was designed to be completely realistic, with a disease that could plausibly exist and a world that has the exact same resources to respond as we do now.
A chilling simulation has revealed just how easily a new pathogen could wipe out a huge slice of the world’s population – up to 900 million people.
Researchers at John Hopkins University simulated the spread of a new illness – a new type of parainfluenza, known as Clade X.
The simulation was designed so the pathogen wasn’t markedly more dangerous than real illnesses such as SARS – and illustrates the tightrope governments tread in responding to such illnesses.
American politicians played out the scenario – which was built to be extremely realistic – where a doomsday cult released a genetically engineered virus. By the end of the simulation in May, representing 20 months after the start of the outbreak, there were 150 million dead around the world – and no vaccine.
The researchers say that the simulation would have ended with up to 900 million dead, nearly 10% of the world’s population.
Eric Toner of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health Security says the world was ‘lucky’ the SARS outbreak wasn’t worse. Clade X was designed to spread about as easily and kill a similar percentage to SARS, Toner says.
Toner told Business Insider,
‘I think we learned that even very knowledgeable, experienced, devoted senior public officials who have lived through many crises still have trouble dealing with something like this.’ ‘And it’s not because they are not good or smart or dedicated, it’s because we don’t have the systems we need to enable the kind of response we’d want to see.’
Could people really design illnesses which would kill billions?
Man-made synthetic diseases pose a threat to humanity which could wipe out tens of millions – and could lead to a new arms race in ‘bioweapons’, a report earlier this year warned.
A report by American scientists delivered to the Pentagon warned that simple modifications to bacteria could create diseases which were immune to all known antibiotics. The scientists warned that more complex ‘tweaks’ to microbes could lead to bacteria which would live in people’s guts, producing poison.
Michael Imperiale, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan said,
‘In and of itself, synthetic biology is not harmful. ‘The level of concern depends on the specific applications or capabilities that it may enable,’ ‘The US government should pay close attention to this rapidly progressing field, just as it did to advances in chemistry and physics during the Cold War era.’
Astronomer Royal Martin Rees warned,
‘’My concern is not only organised terrorist groups, but individual weirdos with the mindset of the people who now design computer viruses.’
Recently a pandemic of airborne Pneumonic Plague was narrowly averted in Madagascar. At the time, scientists worried that the Plague feared to go GLOBAL as death toll rises in ‘worst outbreak for 50 YEARS’
Plague is continuing to spread in the “worst outbreak” in 50 years – but scientists fear the worst is yet to come as it could go global.
There were warnings the plague could stretch across the sea and reach mainland Africa.
Such an outbreak would have been catastrophic and there are fears the virus could go global, should it ever break containment.
The airborne pneumonic plague can be spread by coughing, sneezing and spitting.
It can kill in just 24 hours and is very different from the bubonic plague – which triggered the medieval outbreak known as the “black death”.
Fortunately this potential disaster was contained. How long will it be before one is missed before it’s too late?
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
July 30th, 2018