Death From Above! Sloppy Bats!

If you’ve read my Falling Leaves post on Earth Day, you know I have a somewhat grim view of what’s coming. Based on nothing more complex than the fact that we have no way to control human population growth, and will probably never have a conscious, deliberate way, we are screwing ourselves out of a future. Control will come from outside, via natural forces, and it will be ugly.

On that light-hearted subject, here’s an interesting article from the New York Times: The Ecology of Disease.

The point of the article is contained in a subhead: “Destroying nature unleashes infectious diseases.” Meaning, if you interfere with natural balances, diseases which were once held in check by environmental factors are now able to get free and infect humans, or human pets or livestock.

But once the [Nipah] virus breaks out of the [flying fox] bats and into species that haven’t evolved with it, a horror show can occur, as one did in 1999 in rural Malaysia. It is likely that a bat dropped a piece of chewed fruit into a piggery in a forest. The pigs became infected with the virus, and amplified it, and it jumped to humans. It was startling in its lethality. Out of 276 people infected in Malaysia, 106 died, and many others suffered permanent and crippling neurological disorders. There is no cure or vaccine. Since then there have been 12 smaller outbreaks in South Asia.

That’s a 38 percent death rate, but outbreaks have been recorded with up to 92 percent death rate. The disease can kill as many as 9 out of 10 people who catch it. So far it appears to be spread from pigs to humans, but the Wikipedia article suggests it could make the jump and become a human-to-human respiratory infection.

Nipah virus is classified internationally at the highest biosecurity level – BSL4.

Set that loose in the wider world and bang, a very different way of life for the 700 million of us remaining.

Scary, huh?

And you thought I was just this old compassion-and-togetherness cream puff.

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  • ohioobserver

    This sounds very much like the backstory of the film “Contagion”, which extends the story to a worldwide pandemic.

  • Lou Doench

    I got 3 kids Hank… Wtf am I supposed to do with that image in my head now? I do my best is what I do… Do my best to make them better humans than I have been.

    • Hank Fox

      Lou, I figure if I can inspire soul-crushing terror and existential ennui, I can build a cadre of minions and thralls and start my own cult.

      After that, it’s full throttle mental domination, and no taxes, ever!

      • RealityBasedSteve


        If you are looking for some good solid middle management talent I’d like to submit an application for any positions of Henchman that you may foresee. I’ve extensive experience managing both minions and thralls and can provide witty repartee as the occasion requires.

        In all honesty, the “next big really bad thing” is probably going to be some animal virus that has jumped species, is transferable via casual contact and with an extended 30 days or more latent period so that it can get a world-wide distribution.

        Now I have to put up my fruit bat screens (don’t think they live in Tennessee, but I’m not taking any chances)


        • Hank Fox

          Just minions and thralls for now. Henchmen only come into the plan during Phase 2.

  • F

    Naw, you’re a tough old cream puff.

  • Katkinkate

    Also in Australia, the fruit bats carry a rabies-like virus that can pass to humans who come into contact with them (thankfully successfully treated with rabies meds) and another virus that goes to horses before being passed on to humans (Hendra virus) and has shown a very high death rate so far although not many have yet been exposed. The vets have to wear full contamination protection gear when investigating the horses with suspected cases and the horses are put down if confirmed.

  • Ysanne

    My sister’s an immunologist and virologist. Her advice for me, living in Brisbane (of which the Hendra, namesake of the virus, is a suburb): Don’t pet fruit bats. Ever.
    On the other hand, they’re a safe bet if you want to make yourself a name by discovering a hitherto unknown deadly virus that can be transmitted to humans.

    • c2t2

      Ysanne: Out of curiosity, does your sister know what makes fruit bats such good vectors for humnan disease?

  • Steerpike

    So the virus breaks loose, and wipes out 90% of the human race over the course of a few months to a few years. This would serve to reduce the human population back what it was about 300 years ago. Doesn’t this solve the first problem you mentioned, overpopulation?

    • Randomfactor

      At the cost of civilization, yes.

    • kagerato

      The black death may have culled the population in some regions of Europe by as much as two-thirds. This was, however, only a moderate setback from the perspective of all of human history and the exponential growth trend.

      It’s very likely that any infectious disease with an extremely high mortality rate will self-localize, so long as it doesn’t have an unusually long incubation period. This is due mainly to crippling the infected, making it harder for them to further spread the disease, and the tendency of everyone else to go into quarantine mode when an epidemic is on the loose.

      In most cases, we also discover that a non-trivial percentage of the population has varying levels of resistance. The chances of a natural disease vector actually destroying civilization is close to nothing, though this is of little consolation to those who do not survive.

  • fastlane

    Viruses, climate change, various toxins we’re dumping around the world, deforestation and other loss of habitat….we’re quickly painting ourselves into a corner.

    I only wonder what the time table is? These are some of the reasons I haven’t had kids (and won’t).

    • Hank Fox

      In Larry Niven’s novel “Ringworld,” his four main characters are touring the Ringworld seeking information on what happened to its civilization. They stop in one decadent, backward place and question a priest:

      “What can you tell us about the fall of Ringworld civilization?” asks Louis Wu, and the priest answers, nervously, “Is civilization about to fall?”

      I think it’s been going on since about 1950 (from another point of view, the past 20,000 years or so). What we’re in now is a phase of rapid acceleration.

      I joke, darkly, that the reason the millionaire/billionaire wingers are so blatant about raping the U.S. economy is because they all know about it. They’re deliberately storing nuts for a long, long winter. The joke is that once the rest of us figure it out, we’re going to storm their barricades and eat their supplies AND them.

      Which reminds me …

      End of the World Shopping List:

      charcoal briquettes
      hickory chips
      BBQ sauce
      potato chips
      Millionaire Cookbook

  • Theine

    Lethality is not enough. To really spread through the world, the virus must be lethal yet slow.

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