Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
The Nudist War – Day 43
A novel influenza virus has been discovered in several bats from Guatemala. This virus is highly divergent in sequence from other known influenza A viruses, and has thereby designated as a new influenza subtype of H17N10. Nothing is known about the capability of H17N10 to cause human infections or its putative pandemic potential.
~ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, February 2012
• • •
The room slowly came into focus. Jessica rolled over on the cot and hit the intercom button. “How long have I been asleep?” Silence. Once again, louder and with more authority. “Yo! … Edward! … How long have I been asleep?”
“Hold your horses! I’m starting another run,” replied a voice through the speaker, “… and how many times do I have to tell you? … It’s EDMUND, not Edward!” Pause. “You’ve been asleep just over twenty-four hours.”
“Thanks, Eddy.” Jess rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. She knew well and true that his name was Edmund, but she loved pushing his buttons. Calling him Edward was a sure way to do it. This had been going on ever since Edmund joined her team two months ago, not long before the first reported case of HZV. Back then she had a team of over two dozen scientists and technicians working under her. Now it was just the two of them rattling around in the empty complex.
• • •
Dr. Edmund Hillary was not related in any way to the famous mountaineer, but this never stopped him from using this similarity as a pickup line. Most of the girls he met were too young to have ever heard of Sir Edmund Hillary, but that did not stop him from regaling them with tales of his famous “ancestor’s” historic first ascent of Mount Everest. As pickup lines go, this worked surprising well most of the time.
Eddy, as he preferred to be called, was the youngest member of Jess’s team, almost two full decades younger than Jess and most of the other team members. He had been hired directly after receiving his Doctorate from the University of Texas, where he had been researching the DNA sequence of the H17N10 bat influenza virus. At the time, Jess’s team was studying the epidemiology of bat viruses, funded by a growing concern that bats could become a vector for cross-species flu transmission. Eddy’s research on H17N10 made him a shoe-in for Jessica’s team.
• • •
Eddy had now been without sleep for over four days. The supply run took longer than he had expected. There had been … complications. Life seemed to be overly full of complications these days. He had told Jess to get some sleep while he baby-sat the lab equipment. He just hadn’t expected her to sleep for twenty-four hours. “Jesus,” he muttered. His eyes felt as if someone had been sanding them with an emery board. His mind was on autopilot. The fact that he was used to running samples day after day, night after night, the same steps over and over and over again, was the only thing that kept him going. “Day 43. Had it really been only forty-three days since this nightmare began?” he wondered.
• • •
HZV had been named on reddit by a poster who drew the analogy to HPV – Human Papiloma Virus and HIV – Human Immunodeficiency Virus. The term HZV went viral almost as fast as the actual virus. The Human Zombification Virus was the most virulent virus known to man. In the early days, the Internet was replete with theories as to its origin. The most popular conspiracy theories postulated the escape of bio-engineered pathogens from government labs. Whose lab was of course was another question. A variant of this theory was that it was purposely released by the New World Order to reduce the population. The second most popular theory was that it was the wrath of Yahweh preceding the biblical Apocalypse. In the days immediately following the initial outbreak the number of evangelicals rose dramatically. The fear of HZV turned out to be the perfect way to fill their coffers. Still others suggested that Aliens were sterilizing the Earth prior to colonization.
There were as many theories as there were Internet accounts. Yet, as of Day 43, the cause was still officially unknown despite the best efforts of a coordinated global research initiative. Even though the cause was unknown, the clinical symptoms were well documented. HZV presented in the following manner. Mild flu-like symptoms for a day or two, followed by an apparent recovery. Return of flu-like symptoms in the second week, escalating to convulsions, coma, and death by the third week in approximately half of all infected subjects. Those subjects that did not die would appear to awake from the coma suffering from amnesia coupled with loss of speech and cognitive function. These subjects would be highly agitated, violent, and extremely hungry. If unrestrained, these subjects would usually wreak havoc on the hospital facility before eventually escaping. Escaped subjects would then begin hunting and eating any live animals they could catch: cats, dogs, squirrels, horses, farm animals, etc. They weren’t particular. They would go after the first live animal they came across. Unfortunately this too often turned out to be people. Eventually people were they only thing left that they could easily catch and eat. Homo sapiens soon found itself listed at the top of … Z menu.
The death toll was staggering. A quarter of the world’s population was dead within four weeks. Hospitals were overrun with the dead and dying. Those who had not yet succumbed to the disease were often killed and eaten by packs of marauding Zs, who had a strong preference for living flesh. Quarantine procedures instituted during the second week only made matters worse. Newly zombified subjects emerged daily from homes and apartments looking for their next meal.
It is not clear how they came to be called “Z”s. Some think it is from the “z” in zombie. Others think it is from the “zee” sound in the word diseased. As expected, the Brits, Canadians, and Aussies called them “Zed”s.
• • •
Jessica sat up on the cot and stretched. Even after twenty-four hours of sleep, Jess was still exhausted. She had a splitting headache, her muscles hurt, and she noted a familiar weakness in her left leg. “Time for my shot,” she thought as she stood up slowly. She touched the intercom button again, “how much longer? You need to get some sleep too … and I need my shot.”
“I’ll be out in a few,” came the reply.
“OK.” Jess shuffled back to the break room and made a cup of coffee. She wondered what Eddy had managed to get on the supply run. Although Jess had met him the day before at the loading dock and helped him carry the duffle bags full of booty up the eight flights of stairs to the lab, she had gone immediately to bed and left him to unpack and put away the supplies. Carefully sipping her coffee, she shuffled over to the refrigerator to see what was new. They got out so infrequently now that every supply run was like Christmas day. She opened the main door. “Let’s see what we’ve got here … Hmm, eggs, milk, butter, BACON, yogurt. More Interferon … excellent! Cheese, what is this goat cheese? Pepper Jack, ooh … Brie, smoked Cheddar. Cold cuts too?!!! PASTRAMI, SMOKED SALMON … Where did you find all this?”
“Here and there,” came a reply from the direction of the lab airlock. “Did you notice I scored some more Interferon?”
“I did. You’re a sweetie,” she replied.
“Aren’t I always?”
“Oh, shush. Give me my shot and then get yourself some sleep. You look like you need it worse than I did.”
Eddy opened the refrigerator door and took out the old box of Interferon, carefully pushing the new boxes to the back. He opened the box and took out a sealed packet, which he promptly peeled opened, removing the pre-filled syringe and needle. He popped the cap off the syringe and attached the sterile needle to it. He removed the cover from the needle and held the syringe upright, tapped the syringe with his finger to break up any bubbles, and carefully pushed the plunger in just enough to push out any trapped air. “Which side?” he asked.
“Left … I think.”
“OK, left it is. Pull down your pants.” Jess pulled down her pants and underwear just enough to expose her left hip.
“Hold still.” Eddy located the injection site and cleaned it with an alcohol wipe. He then pinched the skin and stabbed the needle into her hip. Pulling back on the plunger and seeing no back flow of blood, he then pushed the plunger all the way in and just as quickly pulled the needle out. He held a bit of gauze against the injection site with his finger to stop any bleeding. From start to finish, the entire procedure took less than five seconds. “How was that.” he asked.
“Didn’t feel a thing,” Jess replied as she pulled her pants back up. “Now go get some sleep. I’ll watch the lab. Thanks!” She walked over to the medicine cabinet as Eddy left the break room. “Let’s see … Ibuprofen, Ondansetron.” She opened both bottles, took two Ibuprofen and one Ondansetron, washed them down with a swig of coffee and recapped the bottles. Jessica had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The Interferon helped to keep it in check. The Ibuprofen and Ondansetron were for the side effects she would experience over the next twelve hours.
• • •
Jess was officially diagnosed with MS ten years ago, not long after she posted for the position at the CDC in Atlanta. She noticed that she had a “floater” in her left eye that didn’t go away. When she saw her Ophthalmologist he diagnosed her with optic neuritis, for which he prescribed a course of oral steroids to reduce the inflammation. “One thing you should know,” he told her, “there is a good chance that you have Multiple Sclerosis. Let me refer you to a Neurologist who specializes in MS treatment. She’s the best one in Atlanta.” After a CT scan, several MRIs and lumbar punctures, the diagnosis was in. “Ms. Munroe, I am so sorry to have to tell you this. The MRI analyses and spinal fluid tests both indicate positive for Multiple Sclerosis.”
As virulent as the HZV virus was, one thing soon became apparent: not one confirmed case of HZV was documented for anyone suffering with MS. As the disease spread, MS patients became more and more aware that that they appeared to have immunity. By Day 30, research had begun to focus on the MS community, if for no other reason than MS sufferers were still alive. Jess and Eddy were part of the global initiative to find out why.
• • •