“With regard to the lower sort, and many of a middling rank, the scene was still more affecting; for they staying at home either through poverty, or hopes of succour in distress, fell sick daily by thousands, and, having nobody to attend them, generally died: some breathed their last in the streets, and others shut up in their own houses, when the stench that came from them made the first discovery of their deaths to the neighbourhood. And, indeed, every place was filled with the dead.”
-A description of the Black Plague of 1348 from Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron
It’s coming and we are not ready.
Just as fleas feeding on Rattus rattus brought bubonic plague from the bowels of China to the ports of Crimea, ebola will slip past manmade borders and into the intestinal flora of Americans and Europeans.
The Black Plague took three forms:
- 1. Bubonic: characterized by giant, black and blue swellings or “buboes” on the underarms and groin. Bodily fluids took on a foul odor, robbing the victim of any dignity. It killed in a week.
- 2. Pneumonic: characterized by heavy sweating, fever, and cough, this almost 100 percent fatal form of the plague lasted one to two days.
- 3. Septicemic: No symptoms, however the victim died within one to two hours and fatality rate was nearly 100 percent.
Impressive, no? Ebola has even better statistics. Whereas the Black Death only killed three out of ten people, ebola is currently slaughtering a little over half the people it infects. Symptoms are not exactly a picnic either – ebola causes the victim to burn the candle from both ends, a quaint euphemism of yesteryear for crapping and vomiting oneself to death.
And if you thought the authorities running the ports of Sicily, Rome, and Genoa were impotent to stop the spread of disease in 1348, you are about to be introduced to whole new level of bumbling incompetence in the form of the World Health Organization (WHO) working in tandem with modern government.
Recently, the government of Liberia held its own six million people captive for a long three-day weekend of quarantine. The purpose? To send out a small army of volunteers to spread ebola awareness and to hand out free bars of soap. This was following the US’s own too-little-too-late farce, where President Obama sent three thousand soldiers to West Africa, presumably to fight off the virus with guns.
Yeah. That'll work.
The question is not if ebola will enter the “free” world, but when. I cannot pity any fool who thinks having a nice, clean suburban house will save them from the horrors of ebola. Did daily showers and semi-compulsive hand washing save office workers and elementary school dwellers from catching last year’s round of flus and colds?
The question is what people will do when ebola makes landfall and starts wiping out one out of every four people or more. I think many will run for the hills, as the rich did in droves when the Black Death hit the Italian ports. This was such a common behavior that in my fictional novel Forever Fifteen, a Florentine diplomat secrets his Black Plague survivor wife to a remote fortress in an effort to escape the last ravages of the disease, even though it is clear he is already immune. The poor and demi-poor among us will have no country estate in which to retire.
We are looking at the breakdown of systems and order in places that have not experienced Hurricane Katrina-like mayhem before. I expect hospitals and morgues to be overflowing. I hope that people will not riot or will be too preoccupied to care about free televisions and looted iPhones, however, I expect the greedy to take advantage of transient circumstances. I anticipate the government to mount a response as laughable and pathetic as the current one, which will mean supporting the drug companies with taxpayer money in trying to come up with a miracle vaccine while instituting curfews as bodies rot in the streets.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to run.
Homo sapiens is dramatically overpopulated and engaged in the largest resource overshoot in human history. Sadly, it was just a matter of time before a plague came to check our numbers. Let’s just hope we are wise enough to act with the mercy and dignity we love to attribute ourselves with when the time comes.