1. swansong2016
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    swansong2016 New Member

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    mysterious disease-- help!

    Discussion in 'Research' started by swansong2016, Oct 28, 2014.

    100 years in the future America succumbs to a mysterious disease. The symptoms take anywhere from a few months to years to show, and range from loss of sensation to dizziness to blackouts to blisters to death. No one knows how it spreads, or where it came from, though the theories range from a Native Curse to bioterrorism to government conspiracy to aliens. The very first cases were documented centuries ago, but were so few and far between that no one connected them to the mass hysteria that gripped the nation later. Huge numbers of people die, hospitals are overwhelmed. Efforts to contain the epidemic fail. In a desperate attempt to save the population, the government evacuates those who can afford it to satellite planets. Eventually, after a second evacuation, the death toll levels off.

    In the wake of the disease and the evacuations, America is left an apocalyptic wasteland.

    The international community is terrified of contracting the disease and foreign aid is limited, if it comes at all. Right before the disease became a national crisis, America was on the verge of the virtual century. Then all focus shifted to the disease, and technology hit a standstill (and has gone backward-- in what ways do you think it would happen?)

    What would you want to know about where the disease comes from, how it spreads, what the implications are-- political, technological, international, social, etc? (And what do you think some of them would be?)

    Right now, I'm picturing it as a cross between Ebola (global effect), cancer (as far as one's body betraying itself), leprosy (for the long latency), AIDS (for the mysterious epidemic) and herpes (common disease with massive stigma).

    There is still no known cure, but a whole slew of fake cures crop up, each vying for legitimacy. Any suggestions? Also, any thoughts on how the medical industry would be affected? (Genetic experiments, organ harvesting, surrogacy... etc?) What would you find believable, too far-fetched? This disease is crippling the country, and the government is willing to do anything it can to get it under control. (Violence sparks, protests about how badly things are handled, that the US haven't done enough, etc-- eventually this leads to the collapse of the government, civil war (which is more like a war on the perceived terrorist origins of the disease) and the rise of city-states in America).


    I'm just starting out, and want to make the situation as believable as possible. How far could you suspend your belief? What concrete facts would you need to know in order to do so?


    And to give you the stakes: can the band of rebels find the Cure before they fall pray to the disease themselves?!
     
  2. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    One thing I would suggest, narrow down your field of symptoms. Don't do a tribute to all diseases. Look at history, especially that of America's, (both North and South), native people, after the arrival of the Europeans. Smallpox nearly obliterated their ways of life. The disease can be fatal and scarring. Don't try too hard to make it perfect, let the germs fight their own battle. A couple of titles to checkout: Guns, Germs, and Steel and Hot Zone.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, I'll step into the firing line here, and say ...you need to do research and a LOT of thinking. This is your story.

    @Darkkin's suggestions are good. Maybe narrow down the field a bit. Once you have a specific question about a new disease you've concocted, there are medically-trained people on this forum who can help you spotlight potential errors. But you need to do this work yourself, otherwise you're getting people to do your research and come up with your ideas for you.

    Trust me, if you really believe in this idea—which sounds good to me, and is topical as well—you will find a way to make it work. But there isn't any shortcut. You need to dig in and do your planning and research yourself. And guess what? It's FUN to do this. The internet is a massive help as far as research goes, so you've basically got the real world at your fingertips.

    Your fictional world exists in your head, and nobody else's. Basically, you decide what you want to happen in your story, to your characters, to your world ...then you figure out a way to make it happen.

    If you're not willing or able to do scientific research, you should probably be planning a different kind of story. Or maybe a very VERY personal insight into what this disease means to an untrained person who suffers it, or sees other people suffer it. In that scenario you wouldn't need to know all the medical and political ups and downs of it, but simply work with its impact on normal people. The British TV show "Survivors" ...both in its original form and the recent remake, is a good example of what this kind of approach is like. It concerns itself more with what happens when society breaks down, than the mechanics of the disease itself.

    But whatever route you take—the very scientific and/or the social impact route—you really need to figure this stuff out for yourself. It's what any writer needs to do when they're thinking up a story.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  4. swansong2016
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    swansong2016 New Member

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    Thanks, Darkkin!

    I've looked into Smallpox a little bit. My symptoms get progressively worse, starting out with headaches, numbness, blurred vision, dizzy spells, and go on up to loss of feeling, catatonia, and death. Do you think it would be easier to keep track of for a reader (and for me too, probably!) if the symptoms were more specific?
     
  5. swansong2016
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    swansong2016 New Member

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    Hi jannert--

    I have been researching, and I have been having fun with it. I'm definitely not scared of the work, and I'm not trying to get other people to do mine for me. But if anyone has some suggestions of what they think would be believable, or just crazy, or crazy-yet-buyable-- I'd love to hear them. I'm new to this forum and still figuring out how it works.

    Thanks for your reply!
     
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  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a couple of thoughts...

    1/ Why are you setting this in America as being the global focus for this disease? That's not where Ebola, Bird Flu or Swine Flu came from. These all started in a more impoverished part of the world, and then global travel gave them legs (in the same way as ships carrying rats carried bubonic plague...and how European settlers transported exotic and lethal bugs to the Americas.

    2/ A war on the perceived terrorist origins is more likely to be waged against some country, such as Iraq, which is perceived as being the homeland of the terrorists, rather than some other part of the US.
     
  7. swansong2016
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    swansong2016 New Member

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    In response to 2-- the homeland of the terrorists IS in the US. A terrorist group claimed a connection with the epidemic, giving rise to backlash and retaliation, not unlike what goes on against Muslims.

    Variations of this disease crop up in different parts of the world but it's been spreading in America for centuries... quietly under the surface, until it becomes so obvious it can't be ignored. THIS is when people start to take action.
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    2/ If the homeland is in the US...are these US citizens? Immigrants? Where from? What is their avowed goal, as in do they want home rule for Palestine, or what?

    I'm talking as if the terrorists in your story are real, rather than a group to be blamed...but, unless they do stand up and claim responsibility and demand justice for their cause, isn't it an UnAmerican act to blame Americans when you've got some perfectly innocent foreigners who can take the blame instead?

    1/ If variations crop up all over the world, and it's been spreading to America for ages, how is the rest of the world sufficiently immune to it to be able to give or deny foreign aid? And, if it's immune, why would it be terrified of catching it?
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  9. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just as an FYI - Ebola has not so far been diagnosed in Latin America, Australia, or Asia, so it's not *really* a "global effect." Almost any infectious disease these days does have a global effect. Many diseases are "mysterious epidemics" and could be construed as a body "betraying itself." And AIDS had a bigger stigma than herpes. AIDS also can have a long latency period.

    The implications would be in all of the areas you suggest. What I would want to know are what is relevant to the story. There have been many post-apocalyptic disease type stories, and you should read a few. There are also some great epidemiological narratives. WWI ended due to the influenza epidemic. A few good books are The Great Influenza, Tinderbox, And the Band Played On, and The Coming Plague. And there are a bunch of novels.

    It really depends on what you want for your story -- a long latency period with a big stigma might lead you to a sexually transmitted disease. Something that spreads rapidly might be better accomplished with something airborne.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    The reading public could probably suspend belief, but microbiologists might have a harder time. It took a couple years to find the causative agent of HIV. It only took months to find the SARS organism. With today's genetic science your biggest problem is the claim no one could find the cause.

    I suggest you look at the history of prion diseases and that you invent a new kind of pathogen. Prions are no more than a particular protein that results in changing the shape (folding) of other proteins that they come in contact with. It is new kind of pathogen, not a virus, not a bacteria, not even DNA or RNA that replicates. Rather it causes more of a cascading chemical reaction changing how proteins fold which is essential to their function.

    If you want a pathogen that no one can figure out, go for something like that. Proteins in the tissues begin to change and the trigger cannot be found.

    I also suggest that if this is not your area of expertise that you either keep the mechanism vague or do a decent amount of research into infectious disease.
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    @GingerCoffee makes a good point. Mad cow is a prion disease, so you could look at that and some of the panic over finding that in Europe a few years ago. I think you need to figure out whether your focus is on the post-apocalyptic scene, where disease has wiped out most people, or whether you're focusing on the spread of the disease and the scare related to the outbreak.

    You don't even necessarily need a "cure," especially if you're focusing on the world post-disease. It could simply be that a small number of folks are immune and mankind rebuilds from there. In studying the world's population, it was discovered that at one point, humans very, very nearly went extinct. The population went in an hourglass shape, with that smallest part of the hourglass containing a very small number of people -- perhaps less than 1000, and some people have speculated as low as 50. To me, that is just mind-boggling to think about.
     
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  12. karmazon
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    karmazon Member

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    The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic killed about 100 million people across the world. No one knows where it came from or how it ended. There's not much that's needed to make a story believable when stranger things have actually happened.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Actually, this is not true. We know where it came from or at least where it likely emerged and we know what happened to it. It's still with us but it became attenuated after passing through the population in several waves. The more deadly cases don't get passed on while the milder cases do.

    Influenza is well understood. The genetic changes are monitored all over the world continually. We are keeping a close eye out for new potentially lethal strains emerging.
     
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  14. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Troll an anti-vax website for bullshit magic cures. They range form "Raw onions cure the flu" to "Feed your baby raw milk to keep away autism."

    Or if you really want to get stupid, just have them use homeopathy.
     
  15. karmazon
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    karmazon Member

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    Could you post some sources on that? I'm very interested in that event and all I've ever read about it said that there are many theories about the origins and end of it but no conclusive findings.
     
  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    This is kind of a data dump because I'm not sure how to explain the state of influenza genome research in a 25 words or less. Essentially there is an influenza genome project that created a data base for flu researchers. So all over the world scientists collect and analyze influenza strains looking for the genetic mechanisms for virulence, target cells, species jumps and so on. Flu is an extremely dangerous virus, but not everyone knows that or understands why so many resources are dedicated to tracking and monitoring changes in the strains. We are constantly on alert for the next deadly pandemic.

    Sorry this stuff might be a little technical for some folks:

    Influenza Virus Resource
    Influenza Research Data Base
    Reconstruction of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Virus


    1918 Influenza Pandemic and Highly Conserved Viruses with Two Receptor-Binding Variants
    Integrating historical, clinical and molecular genetic data in order to explain the origin and virulence of the 1918 Spanish influenza virus

    Origin and evolution of the 1918 “Spanish” influenza virus hemagglutinin gene
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2014
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  17. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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  18. jccfuture
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    jccfuture Member

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    How about diseases caused from exposure to radiation as it begins to leak from all the waste dumps dotted around the planet?
     
  19. swansong2016
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    swansong2016 New Member

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    Say the disease became a national crisis in-- for easy reference-- 2100. They don't find a cure for forty years. Would you buy it? I know there are still no cures for leprosy, alzheimer's, etc. and they've been trying for longer than 40 years. The story does contain a boy with psychic powers, so there are some fantastical elements. But generally I want to keep it as believable as possible.

    Thanks for all responses!
     
  20. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why not? AIDS became a national crisis in the U.S. in the 1980s and there is no cure. Especially given that we are running out of effective antibiotics, there's no reason to think we are on the verge of defeating all the microbes. They constantly evolve and they're going to outlast us.
     

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