If we ask 100 Preppers what their primary concerns are, their main reasons for Prepping in the first place, we could easily get 100 different answers. This is not surprising as there are, quite simply, a large number of potential threats that could result in “The End Of The World As We Know It” or “TEOTWAWKI”. Granted there are huge differences in likelihood or probability, but there is almost always some probability inherent in any of these.
What has long surprised me is how few Preppers list biological threats, of any kind, in their lists. Personally, biological threats (naturally occurring or man-made) have always topped my list of threats. Why? I’ll start with Influenza (the Flu) which causes global pandemics several times each century resulting in anywhere from hundreds of thousands of dead, to tens of millions dead. Smallpox is the next potential threat because that virus has caused more deaths over our history than all the wars Humans have fought combined. [Note: 6 vials of Smallpox were discovered in an unsecured lab the month this was written, 2 of them were still viable] Then there are the newer, less understood, threats of Ebola, Marburg, and the other hemorrhagic viruses that could mutate into global threats. When these diseases occur naturally they are already extremely frightening, when they occur because Humans caused them to occur they become terrifying.
My first question for people who are more concerned with things like super volcanos, meteor impacts, and other extremely rare occurrences is “why are you primarily concerned with an event that has never happened in your lifetime rather than biological threats that have occurred in the recent past and certainly will occur again?” I was born in the late 1950s, which means I’ve seen at least 2 Flu pandemics over the course of my life to date. Luckily neither of those was particularly nasty, but any Flu pandemic could resemble the Spanish Flu of 1918/1919. Many of you reading this have no perception of Smallpox as it was eradicated back in the 1970s. It took a global effort to do that, but that doesn’t mean the virus is no longer a threat.
There are 2 “legal” sites that maintain samples of the Smallpox virus, one in Russia and the other at the CDC in Atlanta. However, as the discovery of very old vials of Smallpox in July of 2014 illustrates, there is no guarantee that no other samples exist. These were in a forgotten and unguarded freezer, which means if there were others they were taken and could be in the hands of those who hate the USA. Further, the Soviet Union is known to have mass produced the Smallpox virus as biological weapons in the 80s. They created 20 tons per year, and kept 100 tons on hand at any given time. I doubt anyone is foolish enough to not imagine that a few ounces of those immense quantities might have been stolen, especially as the Soviet Union was imploding and the funding for these labs suddenly stopped. The scientists running those labs were suddenly left without support, and we know how similar situations with Soviet weapons played out, so I can imagine that more than a few samples could have been sold to anyone with some $$ in hard currency. Sadly, that describes Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world.
Let’s take a look at Influenza and Smallpox to get a better feel of the threat posed by these killer viruses.
This is the tricky virus when it comes to being prepared to deal with it. I say that because there are numerous sub-types (H1N1 and H3N2 are typical threats to Humans), and each of them constantly mutates into new strains. What does that mean to Humans and what makes it tricky? The important concept to understand is that in each host with an active Influenza virus (which is virtually every bird and pig on the planet plus many Humans) that virus (regardless of sub-type) is busy creating millions of new strains every day. The vast majority of those are not viable and many of the ones that are don’t threaten people or other hosts. But numbers like that means that a new strain that is viable and does threaten hosts on a global basis can appear at any time and in any part of the world. For some reason most new strains seem to originate in China, but that doesn’t preclude new strains anywhere else.
The tricky part is developing vaccines to deal with such a rapidly changing virus. Why does the medical community suggest most folks get a Flu shot every year? Because that vaccine is their best guess in terms of which sub-types and strains are likely to hit your area in the coming year. Why not one shot and done with it, other than perhaps boosters every 10 years? That’s because these viruses can and will change every year, sometimes within a single Flu season, which either eliminates or diminishes the effectiveness of the vaccines developed for earlier strains.
Luckily not every pandemic Flu outbreak is a threat to life as we know it. Of the 5 pandemics that hit Earth in the last 100 years only 1 was a threat at that level. Here are the 5, their death tolls, and the sub-type of Influenza:
- 2009 Flu – 2009 – Killed less than 300,000 – H1N1
- Russian Flu – 1977 – Death toll uncertain – H1N1
- Hong Kong Flu – 1968/1969 – Killed up to a Million – H3N2
- Asian Flu – 1957/1958 – Killed up to 1.5 Million – H2N2
- Spanish Flu – 1918/1919 – Killed up to 150 Million – H1N1
Looking at the three H1N1 pandemics you can see that the death tolls vary wildly. This is due to the different strains involved and the differences in their lethality. Some will say that part of the difference is improvements in healthcare that decreases death numbers from secondary infections and the like, and I agree that is an important consideration. However, in 1977 and 2009 these pandemics burned themselves out very quickly in a time when they could reach anywhere on the globe in a day or two as a result of modern air travel. In 1918/1919 all travel across oceans was by ship, yet that pandemic wiped out villages in Alaska and the Amazon, places the more recent pandemics apparently never reached. To me this means that those 2 more recent pandemics were far less contagious and lethal than the one of nearly a century ago.
Obviously the Spanish Flu was the biggest Influenza threat that Humans have had to deal with in the last 100 years. Should a new pandemic with similar lethality hit today I expect that it would cross the globe in a matter of weeks and the world would truly experience TEOTWAWKI.
This is the workhorse killer of a virus, the one more dangerous than war. I’ll provide an example to help you understand why I say that. The last documented cases of Smallpox in the USA took place in New York City back in 1947. At that time a man traveling from Mexico became symptomatic in NYC and died there. He infected 11 others, one of whom died. So 12 total victims, doesn’t sound too bad, right? Problem is, it took the vaccination of 6,350,000 people to limit that outbreak to 12 people.
The other problem to keep in mind is that this took place when most Americans were already immunized against Smallpox, and there was some herd immunity. Today, a large percentage of the US population has never been immunized against Smallpox, and most of those who have were last protected several decades ago but the immunization is only thought to have a 10 year period of protection. There is no longer any herd immunity as we’re at least 2 generations removed from any significant percentage of the population that has survived the disease.
Some will say that Smallpox isn’t a major threat anymore. They say that the US has roughly 300,000,000 doses of Smallpox vaccine stockpiled, more than enough to immunize the vast majority of the population. The bad news is that there isn’t a solid plan in place for the distribution of the vaccine or for administering it. Rather than coming up with a scenario to illustrate how easily such distribution and administration can get screwed up I’ll offer a book that does an excellent job of doing just that. The name of the book is “The Last Centurion”, written by John Ringo. The book doesn’t deal with Smallpox, but it does provide a chilling example of just how badly such things could go wrong.
I will also point out that at this time there are probably 700,000,000 doses of Smallpox vaccine in the world. My understanding is that only the USA, Israel, and Japan have enough on-hand for all or most of their populations. This suggests that even if the USA is able to weather a Smallpox outbreak (which I wouldn’t bet money on) the rest of the world is not. What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Global economic collapse seems likely, as does the stoppage of most oil and fuel production, which wouldn’t help the economy either. If the oil stops so do the trucks and trains, which would mean no food deliveries and widespread starvation rather quickly.
Not that I feel the need for any additional concerns with this threat, but the vaccines we do have for Smallpox are for the strains we’ve seen in the past. The strain(s) mass produced by the Soviets are of the weaponized variety, which could mean that they would not be affected by the vaccine, and thus we might gain no benefit from mass immunization. They could also be more readily communicated from person to person and more lethal than what we’ve seen in the past, which is very scary as Smallpox has always had at least a 20% level of lethality.
I expect that reading about Smallpox and Influenza is scary enough, so I’ll avoid writing about the hemorrhagic fevers for now, even though there is an apparently out of control Ebola outbreak happening in Africa as I write this. If bio threats aren’t at or near the top of your lists by now then it doesn’t really matter if I write anything additional at this point.