QUARANTINED: Five Literary Viruses (And Their Real-World Counterparts)

Posted by Carrie Jo Tucker

I – along with half the nation, it seems – am sick. I’ve quarantined myself with a pile of books, whiskey, and tissues, indulging in Oh-My-God-It’s-Really-The-Apocalypse theories (which now come with Extra Fever!). Seriously – the CDC says 2013 is shaping up to be the worst flu season ever, viruses replicate at record speed, and vaccine-less danger lurks inside every dented canned good (yes, I’m still so afraid of botulism that I won’t even touch a damaged can at the grocery store).

So herewith, an indulgence of my flu-induced paranoia: some of the worst literary viruses that led to apocalyptic meltdowns, complete with unscientific probability percentages based on nothing more than speculation, a few real-world comparisons, and Extra Fever!

1. Captain Trips, The Stand by Stephen King: It’s always that one guy who ruins it for everyone, isn’t it? In the case of King’s 1978 novel, it was a wayward security guard and his family who inadvertently unleashed a weaponized superflu virus on the world, killing 99.4% of the population. Affectionately known as Captain Trips, symptoms were just like the regular influenza symptoms – except the fact that you drop dead after a couple days with a swollen, blackened neck.
Probability meter: 99.4% – Captain Trips already exists, you guys!
2. The Virus, The Passage by Justin Cronin: We still don’t know a whole lot about the mysterious, bat-borne South American virus that turned ordinary humans into super-inhuman vampiric blood drinkers in the first book of Cronin’s post-apocalyptic trilogy. But we DO know that – once again – the U.S. government attempted to engineer the virus in order to create super-inhuman soldiers. Um, yay government?
3. Red Death, “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe: Punishment of the prosperous, the inevitability of death, or just a good little horror tale? Whatever your interpretation of Poe’s classic short story, we can all agree that the Red Death sucks. The Ebola-esque plague causes “sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores”; death follows about a half hour later.
Probability meter: 100% – hello, Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
4. JUVE (Jetspeed Ultra Virus Extraordinary), Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood: Multinational pharmaceutical corporations creating diseases for profit, genetic engineers creating docile humans – the future is NOW, and I’m more than a little worried about the abuses of science and medicine. Because what happens when bioengineers play God? They distribute a lethal virus disguised as an eternal youth pill that leads to the destruction of the human race, making room for their human-like Crakes.
Probability: 80% – Americans spent nearly $10 billion (LINK ) on cosmetic procedures (aka, “eternal youth”) in 2011.
5. Kellis-Amberlee Virus, Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire: No list would be complete without the mention of a zombie virus, and the Newsflesh trilogy features one of the most realistic zombie viruses ever. The Kellis-Amberlee is an intense, self-replicating, shifting antigen that converts human tissue into more virus. McGuire does such a good job explaining it, that it makes me want to quarantine myself immediately.
Probability: 80% – MRSA, a form of staph, can “literally infect every tissue of the body except the fingernails and the teeth.” (Note: probability not at 100% because it hasn’t produced zombies…yet.)
What virulent virus and it’s real-life counterpart did we miss?

Carrie Jo Tucker is a Brooklyn-based, Florida-born freelance writer and the author of I Love Geeks: the Official Handbook (Adams Media)She’s been writing since she was old enough to scribble with a crayon, and her earliest work focused on horses, unicorns and man-eating hazardous waste. She’s since expanded her subject matter to man-eating hazardous unicorns. Follow her on Twitter @cjotucker.