World not ready to deal with a viral pandemic

A team of researchers from the John Hopkins Center for Health Security conducted a simulation with real life implications. They raised an alarm that a new virus was found to be infecting 400 persons in Eastern Europe and South America and so far has killed around 50. This was not a real scenario though. Then the researchers observed the response from organizations and government agencies to this alarm.

World not ready to deal with a viral pandemic shows Clade X experiment. Image Credit: Skyward Kick Productions
World not ready to deal with a viral pandemic shows Clade X experiment. Image Credit: Skyward Kick Productions

This experiment replicated a scenario where an unknown virus infected a population and threatened to become a pandemic involving several countries globally and also simulated a scenario where the world might face a virus that has been genetically engineered to become a lethal biological weapon.

The scenario was enacted by ten US government leaders who were asked to respond to the epidemic like situation by making decisions that they would make during a real life pandemic. The experiment showed that if a real pandemic of this proportion really occurred, mathematically it would kill 150 million worldwide in just one year and world did not manage to discover a vaccine against the infection during this time. After a period equivalent of 20 months the simulation was stopped and by then it showed that the fictional virus could have killed 900 million globally.

The virus that was infecting people in the simulated experiment was said to be causing cough and fever and confusion in some individuals and after a week of the infection it went on to cause encephalitis or inflammation and swelling of the brain followed by coma and death. The virus was said to be transmitted via mucus and air borne droplets that an infected person coughed out.

The researchers looked at government decisions to stop international travel and air travel due to the spreading infection as well as hospital emergency plans to be activated to deal with patient loads. They asked questions about international cooperative efforts to handle the situation. Real life health and policy experts took part in the experiment including US politicians Tom Daschle and Susan Brooks, and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Julie Gerberding.

The virus was said to be similar to the Nipah virus but could not be accurately identified. The World Health Authority made it a research priority because it could rapidly turn into a pandemic.

Within the simulation then a death cult called “A Brighter Dawn” comes up with a biologically engineered virus that could destroy the industrial world and cull the human population. The cult called this virus or bio-weapon Clade X. National security agencies find the claims made by the cult to be true but the actual actions by governments come in too late find the researchers.

The researchers from the John Hopkins Centre said that the world is still not prepared to discover and manufacture vaccines for unusual, genetically engineered and even new strains of viruses that could cause pandemics killing millions worldwide. Pandemics can cover the whole world within months they explain and said that it may be decades before the researchers could come up with a suitable vaccine against the virus. They predict that if this happened in real life, it would kill more than half of the world population before the scientific community can take steps.

The team led by Eric Toner, a senior researcher at the John Hopkins Center for Global Health Security noted that 900 million people or 10 percent of the world population would be exposed to the deadly virus and their defence would be poorly funded and equipped researchers and stressed and overworked healthcare workers. The team spent years to make the simulation as close to reality as possible choosing a fictional virus that was moderately contagious and moderately lethal.

Open Philanthropy project supported and funded the Clade X project.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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