Koontz, clowns and Coronavirus

Via Facebook (and FOTB CJW) (thanks, CJW):

Author Dean Koontz predicted the coronavirus outbreak in 1981.

Huge if true.

But it’s not true (surprise, surprise). Sure a virus called Wuhan-400 does appear in Koontz’s book The Eyes of Darkness.

It was a man-made biowarfare product. So not like SARS-CoV-2, which is not man-made biowarfare product. (I don’t think it’s “the perfect weapon”, by the way: viruses with 100% mortality wipe their hosts out too quickly to be properly contagious, so you can’t get them to spread properly. That means more effort to get a decent number of victims. Who wants to put in that much effort when you’re already evading international law and slaying millions of innocent people?)

Anyway, as we can read above, Wuhan-400 had a mortality rate of 100%, not the ±2% of SARS-CoV-2.

Wuhan-400 was developed in Wuhan and became known to the West when a Chinese scientist called Li Chen defected. And yes, Wuhan was where SARS-CoV-2 was first found, but actually, Wuhan-400 was originally called Gorki-400 and was developed in Russia. And it was Russian Scientist Ilya Poparapov who defected. Li Chen and Wuhan were only substituted in during a reprint in the 1990’s – presumably when Russia became less of a perceived threat thanks to glasnost and perestroika. See?

Otherwise though: spot on.

But what about the much shared second piece in the book:

“In about 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and bronchial tubes…”

Well, that’s not in his book at all. It’s in a book by Sylvia Brown called The End Of Days. It’s worth noting that there are three claims in there: the date, the illness and the modus operandi of the disease. They’re all correct, although the last one is a little tautological, given that attacking the lungs is really all that pneumonia-like illnesses do. But psychic Silv was accurate with her other two predictions. And as Meatloaf once told us: two out of three ain’t bad. It’s also not a bad starting mortality rate for a man-made weaponised virus. But that’s another story.

So yes, some of it was right. In the same way that – despite being a bit shit at darts – if I threw a million darts at a dartboard, I’d probably get a bullseye.

And if you want further proof that this was merely a lucky dart, you only need to check out the rest of the page that this metaphorical bullseye appears on, because it’s full of her 999,999 other misses:

Sadly, here we are in 2020 and there’s still cancer and invasive surgery and deafness and blindness and anorexia and diabetes and Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis and Muscular Dystrophy.

But still, let’s celebrate the fact that there was no outbreak of flesh-eating disease “transmitted to humans by almost microscopic mites almost undetectably imported on exotic birds”. Imported from where? Why didn’t the humans there get it first? It’s transmitted “by mites”,  but also it’s “funguslike” and yet we find we can destroy “the bacteria” through combinations of electrical currents and extreme heat. We already knew that those things can kill bacteria. Sadly, they also kill the people who are infected with the bacteria, which is why we can’t use them to cure disease.

Unless Sylvia is suggesting that we just stick all the patients into an electric chair and then a big fire.

Because if you were going to try to destroy the mite funguslike bacteria, that would work.

But I have digressed once again. This was never supposed to be a post about how crap psychics are: this was about how Dean Koontz didn’t predict SARS-CoV-2.

In summary, Koontz’s fictional virus was completely different to this real coronavirus, wasn’t even from Wuhan originally, and half the pages in the Facebook post doing the rounds weren’t written even by him.
And even then, only 1 of about 74 predictions on that other page was correct.

tl;dr (although you clearly already have): don’t believe stuff you read on Facebook.

Respiratory illness

Your daily reminder that as it stands, Influenza is far more likely to infect and kill you than 2019-nCoV: the all-singing, all-dancing new virus coming straight out of Wuhan.

Fortunately, there’s something you can do about influenza – vaccinate yourself and your kids. If you do it in SA, you’ll pay about R50 and if you have medical insurance, you’ll pay nothing and they’ll give you a million points for doing it.

I lived with, cared for and slept next to a very sick wife with influenza for 10 days last year and remained wholly unscarthed (by the virus, at least). Guess who’d had the vaccine and who hadn’t?
We’re both going to get it this year, and so should you. And your family.

And if anyone tells you not to – they’re no friend of yours. Why on earth would you wish a serious and wholly preventable disease upon anyone, let alone a friend?

So yes, avoid these sort of people and this sort of shit:

Full story here. Sample paragraph here:

One recent post came from the mother of a 4-year-old Colorado boy who died from the flu this week. In it, she consulted group members while noting that she had declined to fill a prescription written by a doctor.
The mother also wrote that the “natural cures” she was treating all four of her children with — including peppermint oil, Vitamin C and lavender — were not working and asked the group for more advice. The advice that came in the comments included breastmilk, thyme and elderberry, none of which are medically recommended treatments for the flu.

We’re all (rightly) concerned about the influence of social media and fake news in elections around the world, but there are other (literally life and death) situations where less effort seems to be being made to halt the tide of disinformation reaching (clearly) vulnerable parents.

This needs to be addressed, and quickly.

UPDATE: We have a problem.

Coronavirus

While fully recognising the horrific implications, the suffering and the general misery that a global pandemic of 2019-nCoV (or any other microorganism) would cause, as a microbiologist, I do love a good outbreak.

The pure epidemiology of it. Chasing the source, following the virus from person to person, place to place. Wondering how fast and where exactly you build your metaphorical walls to keep everything inside (hint: it’s earlier and wider than those in charge in Wuhan did).

This outbreak is interesting for additional reasons too. The media is struggling with the technicalities of the problem, and are (of course) more anxious to sell papers and clicks than to present an accurate picture of what’s going on. But their hands may be tied on that account anyway, given that we are relying the notoriously secretive Chinese authorities to share the stats and the news. Add to that all the individuals who have read a post on the internet (Web MD if you’re lucky, but far more likely Mercola, ugh) and once had a cold, and are now sharing their expert opinion, full of misinformation, yet which is spreading faster than the actual virus.

Even real medical experts in the US are jumping on the panic bandwagon, confident that they can either play the “I told you so” card to the remaining post-pandemic shards of humanity or have their words forgotten along with the damp squib of the apocalypse that never was.

I’ve had a number of friends and family asking me about it, and they generally leave disappointed with my response, which – rather than pooh-poohing the pandemic panicmongers or damning those who are dismissing the virus as nothing to be worried about – takes a far more moderate line:

Mmm. Well, we’re going to have to wait and see.

OMG. SOOOOOOO BOORING, in this this world where instant opinions are the lifeblood of decent conversation and intercourse, but the fact is that if one takes a step back and reviews what’s happened so far, we simply don’t have enough information yet to do much other than speculate.

Because we just don’t know how many infected individuals “escaped” the cordon around Wuhan (actually, nor are we ever likely to), we don’t know where those people are, and we don’t know exactly how long they are contagious for before they start displaying signs and symptoms of disease. And all of these (and more) are required before we know how this is all going to pan out.

The next week or two will give us some pointers to each of these quandaries, and armed with these extra data, we can start to make a more informed decision about where things are going. At that point, some of those who have already voiced an opinion will be right, and some will be wrong. At this moment, we don’t know which is which. And that should surely send some sort of warning out about believing everything you read or hear.

For the moment, I wouldn’t advise travel to Wuhan, nor contact with anyone that’s been there in the last 6 weeks or so. In addition, wash your hands regularly and get the flu vaccine when it becomes available. Those last two won’t stop you contracting 2019-nCoV, but they’re just good practice.

Maybe we’ll revisit this subject when we know a bit more about what’s going on. Maybe not.

Either way, stay healthy. 🙂