Possible Pandemics

In the past, serious infectious diseases were spread in several qualitatively different ways:  by arthropod vectors like mosquitoes or fleas (malaria and bubonic plague) , via contaminated water like cholera or typhoid, sexually (syphilis and AIDS), and via respiratory transmission   ( smallpox, measles, influenza).  We are perfectly able to stop everything but respiratory transmission.  With the right technical developments, we could eliminate that last possibility.

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33 Responses to Possible Pandemics

  1. lg says:

    a device that oxygenates the blood directly? wear it on your back and just stop breathing for a while?

  2. Joel says:

    Someone should invent some sort of cheap disposable barrier for the nose and mouth that a person could breathe through, but would block larger particles. We should get our top scientists on the problem.

  3. gabriel alberton says:

    I’m aware of what you mean with “we are perfectly able to stop” all those, Mr. Cochran. Yet we don’t. Many people still die from dengue fever in my country. We even had a measles outbreak not long ago. I suspect we might still have them decades into the future. I know where you’re getting at, but it’s not that simple.

    Or maybe I’m just a pessimist, and I’m wrong.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I think means that, assuming a person sufficiently concerned, it is entirely possible to avoid AIDS and syphilis.

      Waterborne bugs require an entire city or town to be sufficiently concerned plus able afford it. An example would be Hamburg, Germany in 1912. The rest of Germany used sand filtration in its larger cities. The health authorities in Hamburg did not believe that cholera was waterborne, causing an epidemic that stopped at its borders. Clearly, this did not need to happen given the available knowledge and the prosperity of Hamburg.

      The mosquito borne ones are a lot harder. But even there, some success can be had. The Americans, building the Panama Canal (finished in 1914), managed to keep the mosquitoes down, at least in the towns, by strict policing of standing water. The earlier attempt by the French had engineering problems and a high death rate from yellow fever.

    • Frau Katze says:

      I should add that there are vaccines for measles and most people get their children vaccinated.

      Flu vaccines exist but aren’t as good due the number of different strains. There are entirely too many cold viruses (in an earlier thread, we learned that there are 99 strains of cold).

      I honestly cannot see how one can avoid our current plague without staying isolated or using elaborate hazmat gear. If there was a simple solution someone would have thought of it by now.

      A better method of watching for emerging strains is likely the best solution. No outsiders seemed all that concerned with Covid-19 until it turned up outside China. I might be wrong here, I have no knowledge of what tracking is done currently.

      The Communist government of China needs to be shamed to some degree (as was done with in Hamburg in 1912). The problem is that’s it’s all too easy to start blaming the population at large (although I have not heard of anyone being anti-Chinese in a way that would make the news). People realize that it was a failure of the government.

      It’s just like Chernobyl, another gift from Communism. Unqualified people end in high places because they have connections, even if they’re incompetent.

      • Curle says:

        “[A]nother gift from Communism. Unqualified people end in high places because they have connections, even if they’re incompetent.”

        They are good at ass kissing other communists. How does that differ from being a college administrator?

  4. engleberg says:

    It would be really nice to have a blue-green algae or something that breathed CO2 in and O2 out in a small backpack.

  5. dave chamberlin says:

    With the right technical developments? Well isn’t that an open ended statement. With the right right technical developments the stupid can all spread a disease that makes them all infertile. You got your dream, I got mine.

  6. Denis Nikitin says:

    That last techical development cost about a dollar per person

  7. luisman says:

    If only someone could invent HEPA filters and find a way to construct a facemask out of them…
    The other option for all you mouth and nose breathers out there: stop it!

  8. Smithie says:

    By developing millions of robot servants just like Asimov’s Solarians?

    • ghazisiz says:

      This. The death sweeping through nursing homes would not have happened had attendants been robots who never left the building. In fact, the elderly could stay at home longer, perhaps until the end, if each elderly person had a robot providing care.

      • Frau Katze says:

        Even without full scale robots more could be done to keep the elderly in their homes.

        • Henry Scrope says:

          I believe the Japs are well along on this. Exoskeletons for the bodily weak and so on. At least they are trying and not simply consigning their elderly to a hellish death at the hands on third world attendants.

  9. catte says:

    Suppose there were a disease with these characteristics:

    very long incubation period
    efficient presymptomatic transmission (way more than covid)
    really high mortality
    novel in humans, so no prior immunity

    So, it jumps to humans, and nobody notices. People have no symptoms at all, it gets into international airports and on to the four corners of the globe. Then only weeks or months later do people get sick and start dying en masse, everywhere at once. Game over, we lose before we even realise we’re playing.

    I know there are diseases that have these horrible properties individually, but is there any mechanism preventing one from having all of them jointly? I’d sleep better at night if someone can say “no, that can’t happen because X”.

    • Frau Katze says:

      Kind of like an airborne AIDS?

    • The North Sentinal Islanders would be OK.

    • Henry Scrope says:

      I hope our germ warfare guys are at least aware of the possibility. I’m assuming thy have a healthy cynicism the our civilian medics don’t.

    • RCB says:

      I’m aware that there are asymptomatic carries of covid 19 that can spread the virus. But I don’t understand this very well. It seems to me that it would be hard to have very high infectiousness while remaining asymptomatic for long. To spread effectively, a virus needs to take over a lot of cells, which presumably will cause a strong immune response, and cause its host to sneeze and cough and generally have a fucked up respiratory system. In other words, my guess would be that high infectiousness almost requires that the virus burns fairly hot. If that were true, it would mean a highly deadly disease with a long incubation period AND high pre-symptomatic transmission would be a priori unlikely. But I could be pretty far off base here; perhaps a novel virus can still manage to spread itself pretty effectively without totally overwhelming the respiratory system, before the immune system really kicks in?

  10. Esso says:

    Universal and repeated sequencing could do this, in the future. Tracking mutations will provide legal evidence against individuals who don’t self-quarantine. And as a bonus the data and health records will provide circumstantial evidence against microorganisms with regards to late life illness.

    People will never wear filters in the required extent. How would they eat outside?

  11. Rob says:

    My understanding is that respiratory viruses spread more through droplets/films on surfaces than from inhaled aerosols, so filtering what goes into your airways is pretty ineffective. Helps a bit, but overall not that much.

    How about a mouth/nose covering that UV-sterilizes outgoing air. There doesn’t need to be a filter, so breathing is unrestricted, and much cooler and drier than an N95 mask. That wouldn’t help with having to blow one’s nose, and getting virus-laden mucus on one’s hands to spread around by touch, but frequent hand washing is supposed to be a thing right now. Plus, cold/flu medicine reduces nose running, and it benefits the user, so it has pretty widespread use by sick people.

    UVair has a drawback in that it would hardly help the wearer, just other people, and that might prevent adoption. It has to be kept charged, and you’ll look like a dork wearing it, at least until Apple comes out with iBreathe, and makes it cool. There could be blue ones for Democrats and red ‘Make Air Great Again’, or MAGA sterilizers for the cool crowd.

    Would Americans buy and use a product intended to benefit everyone but the wearer? Maybe if it were mandated.

    Is that the sort of thing you were thinking of?

  12. John says:

    Most of the transmission goes from your hands to your face and into the rest of your body. How about a glove that could be worn all day and kills the virus in a short amount of time? You would wear the gloves and otherwise go about your business as usual.

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