DO YOU ENJOY BOOKS AND MOVIES ABOUT GLOBAL PANDEMICS? ENJOY BEING SCARED by scenes of a “World War Z”-like, zombie-producing infection that threatens the extinction of all on humans on earth? I do, if in the end the microbe is conquered through the efforts of brilliant, daring, and desperate people.
Last week I finished reading a book that had quite an unexpected setting, the eastern Lake Michigan shoreline of the northern lower peninsula. In “Station Eleven”, by Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel, the infection that decimates civilization is called the Georgian flu, and comes out of Russia. It is 99% fatal. The heroine, Kirsten, is a child actor in a Toronto stage play of King Lear at the time of the worldwide outbreak.
Twenty years later, she is touring this area of the Great Lakes with a troupe of musicians and actors dedicated to preserving what remains of art and “humanity” on earth. Life becomes increasingly dangerous for the Shakespearean band when the group is threatened by a zealous, violent prophet. Kirsten must fight for their survival with skills she’s honed as a wanderer in a changed world.
Although fictional bad, bad, microbial diseases like the Georgian Flu can be entertaining, real-life deadly pathogens are not. Newsweek.com warns readers in an article, “What is Disease X? Deadly Bird Flu Virus could be Next Pandemic “, by Scottie Andrew.
In February 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2nd annual review of the Blueprint list of priority diseases. The list seems to form the basis of the Newsweek piece; the last item on the priority list is “Disease X.”* Andrew quotes a British expert who wonders if the H7N9 Avian Flu could be the cause of a deadly pandemic. However, technically, according to the WHO explanation, the “X” designation would go to a pathogen that has not yet been discovered, one that’s “currently unknown to cause human disease.”
So, although the pneumonia-causing, H7N9 influenza virus is definitely scary, it cannot be “X”.
That horror still awaits discovery and likely keeps dedicated infectious disease experts, who surveil the world’s populations for the earliest evidence of a novel microbial threat, awake at night.
Why did Earned Runs feature this article? Because enjoying movies and books about fictional pandemics can be a guilty summertime pleasure as long as we pay attention to the warnings of health experts and follow advice about prevention, including vaccination. It may not be “X” that sickens and kills large numbers of people. It could be a known strain of influenza, or measles. And we're already thinking about Turkey Trots and all the fun of fall running, walking, and cycling events to come. There's never a good time for preventable illness.
As falls nears, think about receiving recommended vaccinations early, before the warnings are issued, when they become available. Help prevent the spread of illness by strengthening “herd immunity”. Then read the books and see the movies that give pleasant chills and goosebumps.
RUN & MOVE HAPPY!
*Below are the other deadly diseases:
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Running, walking, and fitness activities enable us to experience our physical selves in a world mostly accessed through use of fingers on a mobile device.
EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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