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Hither and Yon

Mass killers on the loose ― cover up, hunker down, prepare to die

Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk, East-Asia-Intel.com
AIDS, SARS, MERS ― the four-letter acronyms leap from the headlines like killers in a horror movie each time the latest deadly disease spreads shock and awe among people to whom the inability to find cures seems unimaginable.
It was just a century or so ago when the first antibiotics were killing every day viruses that now seem to have morphed beyond the control of the latest innovations in modern science. Or, to put it another way, the viruses have a way of staying one step ahead of scientists and doctors.
The phenomenon of MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, began making headlines years after most people had forgotten about SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly a thousand people 12 and 13 years ago. Remember SARS? It’s not clear whether the scientists ever really found the cure, but the syndrome has been quiescent, almost forgotten, after having been confined like a frothing beast to where it could no longer spread terror among unsuspecting victims.
Then along came MERS, a cousin of SARS, a disease for which there is no magic pill, no quick shot and no vaccination. It’s not spreading far and wide but persists in taking one life at a time while the frightened masses take shelter, cover their faces with masks, avoid ballparks and railway stations, anything to be sure no one breathes out the microscopic droplets bearing the virus.
No doubt MERS, like SARS, will go away. Never completely, though. We have to accept the sad truth that modern science does not have the final answer. MERS and SARS still bear the poisons that kill innocent victims like bombs dropped on populated areas or terrorists igniting explosives killing people whom they never saw or knew.
You wonder if the greatest researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Washington or in equally famous hospitals and universities will ever really track down these killer diseases, catching them before they spread like the Black Death, the plague, that took the lives of millions in medieval Europe. The fight to subdue AIDS, the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome that’s spread mostly by homosexual contact or by contaminated needles for mainlining narcotics, has had mixed results.
Yes, doctors know how to keep AIDS at bay, to enable victims to live on for years and years. No, they’ve not come up with the ultimate cure, the shot that stops the disease in its tracks, curing victims as surely as penicillin was once the best way to deal with pneumonia. The most advanced antibiotics now are needed for diseases that seemed in the middle of the last century to have all but vanished.
There are, however, far worse killers. South Korea lives under the perpetual threat of a nuclear holocaust that could wipe out all the accomplishments of the Korean Miracle in a few quick blasts. Political violence costs lives everywhere, probably more in the Middle East, notably Iraq and Syria, than elsewhere, but also in South America, Africa and Eastern Europe, where conflict boils over daily.
So what poses the greatest danger to the survival of the human race as we know it ― disease that no one can cure or wars that no one can stop? MERS is so frightening not only for the fear of catching it, but for the specter that it raises of a disease that’s gone out of control, that spreads and spreads, leaping from hospitals to the general public, going around the world, from country to country, society to society, race to race.
That’s a nightmare scenario that I doubt will come to pass in the lifetimes of anyone now alive. But in the long, long run of history, there’s no telling what new and worse disease lies in wait, ready to pounce, to ambush the human race? Incurable diseases are blamed for wiping out certain ancient communities. In the end, they could wipe us all out.
But another killer may get us first ― or several killers. Besides nuclear weapons, we have to be equally afraid of biological and chemical weapons, terrible potions and formulas that are able to destroy lives immediately on contact. All the ”advanced” nations have these weapons, nuclear, biological and chemical. So does North Korea.
If the world is going to come to an end, we can imagine masses crumpling under raindrops of biological terror dumped from the skies, people coughing uncontrollably and then expiring in clinics and hospitals.
On top of all these, how about almost daily tsunamis inundating population centers around the world?
We people live under a triple threat ― incurable diseases, weapons of mass destruction and a shifting environment. I’m not expecting, however, to live to see all that hell breaking loose around me. Maybe we’ll have to wait a century or millennium or two. Apres nous, le deluge?
Columnist Donald Kirk has been watching seismic shifts in Asia for decades. He’s at kirkdon4343@gmail.com.
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