Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Zombie Apocalypse Writing Ideas

A friend of mine has decided to start writing a novel and wants a few ideas for an apocalyptic outbreak to start the novel.  He has a few ideas that he would like me to work with and those are listed below.  The reason I put this up as a blog post, was because I think it would be useful for writers of sci-fi.  There have been a handful of virus/outbreak movies (Outbreak, Contagion, and numerous zombie movies) and while they have been good, the science often suffers.  The lone bright spot I can think of off the top of my head is Contagion which hired a very smart Virologist, Ian Lipkin MD as a consultant, and it paid off.

His stipulations are as follows:

Speed - Has to be as fast as possible.  48 hours would be ideal, but that is impossible.  A time frame of maybe a month or two is more realistic.

No animals - Want's to leave animals unaffected.  Animals could be carriers or spreaders of the disease, but no zombie dogs, or zombie fish.  Also doesn't want the animals to be killed along with humans.

Leave some people alive - Roughly 5-15% of the population should survive.  Whether this is an innate immunity (think delta-32 with HIV), or pure luck, isolation, etc.

Disease phenotype - At some point in time, either the virus has to mutate in a small population which affects the disease phenotype, or some other factor has to occur.  There are a few ideas I have about this.

  1. Virus mutation is taking the easy way out.  If all of a sudden the disease phenotype changes, then obviously saying the virus mutated is the easy answer.  It isn't wrong, and it can be a good answer (Influenza mutates to become more pathogenic, more contagious, less susceptible to anti-virals, etc.)
  2. I like the idea of some interaction with a prion disease.  Say some isolated population has a prion disease endemic in the population, they then get infected with a virus and some sort of interaction results in a change in disease phenotype.
  3. Similar to the "leave some people alive" you could have a mutation within a population that could make the disease phenotype different.  

My Ideas:

1. Measles virus which has been held in check by vaccination and herd immunity suddenly busts out due to recent decreases in immunizations.  As the herd immunity slipped, it resurfaced with periodic outbreaks and then it mutated.  Suddenly the vaccine was ineffective.  Measles is highly contagious and can cause meningitis and encephalitis which fits the need for fast, deadly, and pandemic.  It also fits well with the current socio-political aspects of anti-vaccination movements, and declining vaccination rates.

2. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome - Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which is currently smoldering in the middle east.  Not much is currently known about it.  We do not know the animal reservoir, we are also relatively unsure of spread.  Similar to SARS-CoV, it has a high mortality rate, and seems to be very contagious.  Fits the needs with speed and mortality rate, also fits with current socio-political lack of public health funding, monitoring, and lack of R&D for bioscience.

3. JC or BK virus, which I think would a bit of a stretch.  A large percentage of the population is infected with JC or BK virus, and it is typically harmless.  However, due to some sort of mutation, or something like climate change causing an increase in temperatures, suddenly the virus activates and becomes extremely pathogenic.

4. Endogenous Retrovirus (ERVS).  This is more of a stretch, depending on how much "fi" you want to put in the "sci-fi".  I like the idea of a large percentage of the population being "infected" with ERVS and again due to something like climate change and increasing temperatures, or aliens could be using it as a population control (kill switch), etc.  Again, I think a million things could be made up for this one, depending on how far out you want to get with it.
This is a rough list for now.  Hopefully readers, or myself can add to this list.
Lance D. Presser has a PhD in Microbiology & Immunology, and is a Public Health Laboratorian.

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