What’s The Ruckus About Zika?

If you’ve listened at all to the news lately then you’ve been hearing about Zika virus and the concern it’s causing about a possible link to microcephaly (babies born with small brains) from women who were infected during their pregnancy. I knew it was time to blog about Zika when I overheard another woman at the salon claiming that engineered mosquitoes were responsible for the Zika outbreak. Surely, this was a conspiracy theory but my suspense author brain was warmed up and not just because I was under a set of heat lamps.

I had to investigate (and make lots of notes for future books.)

Zika is a flaviviridae and is in the same family as Dengue, West-nile virus, and Hepatitis C. Zika is transmitted via mosquitoes so an infected person gets bit, and when that same mosquito bites another person, transmission can occur. 
Only about twenty percent of people infected with the virus will show symptoms. It’s unknown how long the incubation period is. An incubation period is from the time of infection until you show symptoms. 
Symptoms can include fever, rash, joint pain, headache and conjunctivitis lasting up to one week. Deaths related to Zika virus are rare. 
There is no current treatment for Zika other than prevention– which in this case is not getting bit by an infected mosquito. So repellent, mosquito nets, etc. The above information comes from the CDC website which you can further read here
 Zika was first discovered in 1947 in a Rhesus monkey in Zika Forest, Uganda. There have been previous cases in Uganda, Tanzania, and Nigeria before it broke free from Africa into other areas. It hit Chile in 2014 with cases until June 2014. And then it disappeared.

In May, 2015, Zika was confirmed in Brazil. The largest concern is Zika infection in pregnant women where it seemingly is causing arrested brain development in unborn babies or microcephaly. It’s unknown what percentage of infants, if any, develop microcephaly when the mother is infected with Zika during her pregnancy or at what point in the pregnancy this would be concerning for developing the congenital condition.

Brazil is where there was a noted spike in cases of microcephaly. Keep in mind, the link between Zika and this birth defect is suspected but scientifically unconfirmed. Some are postulating that the increased cases are due to hypervigilance and a broad screening net. The Brazilian government stated on January 27th “that of 4,180 cases of microcephaly recorded since October, it has so far confirmed 270 and rejected 462 as false diagnoses.”    

And, according to this well laid out article, the genetically engineered mosquitoes aren’t the cause for the spread of Zika. However, I do see the possibility of a future post and a very good basis for a medical thriller in the future.

What do you think about Zika? Are you worried about it? 

Primer on Pathogens: Part 1/3

There’s nothing like a good pathogen story line for medical thriller authors. It might be considered a mandatory novel requirement if you’re in the genre. Hmm . . . guess I better start developing a virus-run-amok story line.

Great examples would be Robin Cook’s Outbreak and the unrelated movie Outbreak that starred Dustin Hoffman. Recent film examples would be Contagion.

I was talking with a physician co-worker of mine after the movie Contagion was released and she said she’d applied for work at the CDC but they were overwhelmed by applications as a result of the movie. Personally, that movie would have quelled my desire to study virulent pathogens up close and personal but I guess if you like to hang over the edge of the cliff like that go right ahead . . . I’d rather write books.

When picking a pathogen there’re a couple of principles to keep in mind when you choose your microorganism of destruction.

First– what is a pathogen? A pathogen is a microorganism that causes disease. It can be one of four things: bacteria, virus, fungus or prion. Each has a different level of virulence.

Virulence is how deadly a pathogen is. Generally– medical thrillers pick bugs that have high virulence (hence the dramatic part.) This is the concern with the new SARS like virus (MERS-CoV) in Saudi Arabia that has a death rate of 60%. That’s scary. I’ll blog about that later this week.

Next thing to consider is how will the pathogen spread or what is its route of transmission? If you’re talking medical thriller– airborne transmission is generally preferred because of it’s ease and spread of transmission.

Pathogens can be spread person to person through touch (common cold), contaminated blood (HIV, Hepatitis C), saliva (rabies), and air (measles.)

Pathogens can also be spread through food, water, insects and fomites (non-living objects such counter tops).

Another thing to consider is the incubation period which is the time between exposure and development of symptoms and surprisingly they vary widely depending on what agent is involved. For instance, Mad Cow disease could have up to a 30 year incubation period whereas a staph infection can have an incubation period as short as one hour.

Here a list to peruse of different pathogens and some of these principles.   

Creating a Monster: Part 2/4

We’re returning to our Monday, Zombie Fest. Remember, leave a comment on any of Dale’s posts and be eligible to win two zombie books by David Moody and K. Bennett. Drawing Oct 31st! Must live in the USA.

Now Dale…

In my up coming zombie story, The Smell of the Dead, a group of scientists are now on the run. Their lives are in grave danger from their former employers. They make a plan to fake their deaths and take one last adventure.

High on the slopes of Mount Everest, foremost infectious disease expert Terry Marshall leads the group  to their dream summit, and to a new life, one where they can live without looking over their shoulders. However, a plan is in the works. One of them isn’t who they seem, and a deadly zombie virus is transforming inside one of the members.
About the Virus

MRSA under Electron Microscope

 The zombie virus is a combination of MRSA, Lyme disease, Morgellons Disease—or  Elliot’s Disease—or Worms-Under-Skin Disease, and the flu. At this point it is a mystery, but it is believed that there are several hundred different DNA strands of other viruses inside one zombie virus.

What made me decide to use a virus instead of the supernatural trend dating back to George Romeros, was the fact I love viral story lines. Even before the movie Contagion. Secondly, my mother who has always been a health nut (in a good way) told me about Morgellons and once she mentioned the symptoms I knew I had to use it in my story.
One of my favorite authors, Brandilyn Collins, wrote a book called, Over the Edge. A wonderfully written story about Lyme Disease. Along with her book, she posts articles about people who have suffered from Lyme, giving me even more ideas on splicing it with Morgellons.
Then the last thing that sparked my interest, I am on a conservative preparedness forum. Though I am rarely on there these days, aside from a lot of pointless bickering, there a lot of good articles on things to be prepared for. One of which, viral outbreaks.
I have read one in particular from a poster who was talking about expecting high death rates over the Swine Flu (H1NI). Although there was indeed a death rate, and a larger one than the media was allowed to talk about, it wasn’t near the scale that he had feared. But this article did do a great job at getting to the point on how something like a virus can destroy a world. Though that was only part of the post.
This man made a lot of good points. He is a survivalist, he is brilliant about economics, has even been on interviews discussing the current economy, and is working on a post apocalyptic story to one day publish. But, let’s just say that maybe he was wrong about which virus would cause a huge scale death toll, but not about the death toll of a viral outbreak.
In the past ten to fifteen years, scientists have been dropping dead.  Some are nuclear physicists, others are microbiologists. And the deaths only seem to rise. There is something going on that we don’t know about. While some of the scientists can be chalked up to natural causes or events from their own mistakes, a lot of issues raise doubts about how they died. And the fact that so many have perished makes one wonder if there wasn’t foul play.
Next week I will break down Morgellons Disease, MRSA and Lyme Disease. The week after that, I will bring them together as the zombie disease.
Thank you for reading!

Author Dale Eldon lives in a Macomb, Illinois, and takes care of a sick mother while working overnights at McDonald’s. He spends his free time with loved ones and writing his butt off. Between blogging and writing anthology submission calls, he is currently working on a zombie trilogy for a series of novellas and a novel.