Yumen, a city in northern China was shuttered last week after a man died of bubonic plague. About 151 people with direct contact with the deceased were quarantined. Fortunately there have been no signs so far of the infection spreading. As a precautionary measure, the 30,000 residents have reportedly been barred from leaving the city while local police are also blocking people from entering the city. The plague is a bacterial infection, which spreads largely through fleas living on wild rodents. If diagnosed early, bubonic plague can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Pneumonic plague, on the other hand, is one of the most deadly infectious diseases; patients can die 24 hours after infection. The mortality rate depends on how soon treatment is started, but is always very high (World Health Organization).
Elsewhere across the globe in Colorado, ABC News reported the death of a 28 year old man with plague-like symptoms. Prairie dogs in a nearby airport field were tested positive for bubonic plague. Bloomberg also reported that three additional cases were diagnosed last week. Two of the patients had the life-threatening pneumonic plague. In Africa Ebola is also reported to be spreading fast. According to Reuters, the doctor leading Sierra Leone’s fight against the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has contracted the virus himself. The Centers for Disease Control listed a total of 497 Chikungunya cases in the U.S. in 35 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, with 197 locally transmitted (New York Daily News). Singapore is facing her worst onslaught of dengue cases in history, with 11560 cases reported since the beginning of 2014 (http://www.dengue.gov.sg/). So far, fatalities have been minimal. But the statistics can change in the twinkle of the eye. Just one more sneeze can bring the world to its knees!
Scientists are frantically searching for remedies and preventive medicines. There is no certainty that a cure will not result in the mutation of a disease into an even more potent hybrid. As a matter of fact, scientists know well they do mutate and there is no way of predicting the outcome of such mutations and consequences. Somehow, mankind cannot outdo what nature has designed for humanity. There is an intricate microscopic ecosystem of life that is self balancing and sustaining. Like Humpty Dumpty, life is designed to right itself once fallen. Diseases typically is symptomatic of imbalance and attempts to interfere with this imbalance could lead to worse outcomes, resulting in a vicious cycle of self-destruction. Unfortunately, the need to eradicate life threatening diseases must carry on. Mankind has not better solution but to continue to probe new frontiers.
Science has no morals, humans do. With scientists meddling with nature, the outcomes can go either way – for the good or worse. A rouge scientist is probably more deadly than a nuclear bomb. Recent reports of lapses in the management of virus research in tightly controlled laboratories expose the dangers of letting dangerous technology fall into the hands of undesirable elements. It can happen any moment. Prince Philip in the forward of the book “If I were an Animal” wrote “I just wonder what it would be like to be reincarnated in an animal whose species had been so reduced in numbers than it was in danger of extinction. What would be its feelings toward the human species whose population explosion had denied it somewhere to exist…. I must confess that I am tempted to ask for reincarnation as a particularly deadly virus. “ (Prince Philip, If I Were an Animal; United Kingdom, Robin Clark Ltd., 1986., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip,_Duke_of_Edinburgh). These words should send a chill down your spine.
Infectious diseases know no boundaries, especially when it goes airborne. In a highly mobile and connected world today, hundreds of millions of people commute everyday. Any outbreak has the potential of spreading to the whole world like a flash flood. Should an event of this proportion happens, it would result in a total shutdown of human traffic and all forms of economic activities. Airports and all points of transit have to be shutdown to contain contagion. During the 2002-2003 period, the Severe Acute Respiratory syndrome (SARS) pandemic took the world by surprise. It was presumed to have started from southern China and caused an eventual 8,273 cases and 775 deaths. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Severe_acute_respiratory_syndrome). Pandemonium and panic broke out everywhere as the disease crossed boundaries. The mood then was as if Apocalypse was upon earth! In the city-state of Singapore, its impact was especially severe as government officials froze, mulling over appropriate actions to take. The economy took a big hit as travelers cancelled trips. Checkpoints were rapidly installed at all transit stations and all travelers scanned with temperature sensors for possible fever, which is a symptom of SARS. People were encouraged to work from home to avoid contact with infected people. It was a sigh of relief as the disease eventually dissipated.
These events were recent. Are we prepared for a similar or worse viral pandemic? The images of panic have since been erased or forgotten in this short span of time. In this increasingly crowded world, city states like Singapore must weigh the consequences of overcrowding. Its economy is extremely vulnerable to disease contagion. Each day, people push and shove in congested public transit areas. People are packed like sardines in confined spaces for extended times. Body contact is inevitable. Hospitals and health care services are already taxed to the brims in times of peace and quiet. There is no room to spare for another attack by deadly viruses. Governments should focus the resources to build infrastructures and services to pre-empt moments of distress and for the betterment of the society that it serves. All the overseas investments cannot solve and serve local social needs. Overseas investments, no matter how good the returns are, are just statistics if they are not utilized for tangible local needs. Is there prudence if we are millionaires without food and decent healthcare? Without a prudent government, the citizenry becomes victims.
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk.