Ron Fouchier and the end of the world.
Will Ron Fouchier’s curiosity and, it seems ego, end the modern era? Dr. Ron Fouchier is a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. He is also the creator of, most probably, the most deadly virus ever seen on Earth.
Ron Fouchier has mutated the bird flu, H5N1, into an airborne form, that transmits easily from host to host – and would do so, too, in humans. If his virus were ever to be released into the world, it would kill 50 to 60% of all who caught it: billions of people would die. Civilization itself might fall, in the chaos and terror of such a pandemic, in which simply breathing the air, breathed out by another, some distance away, would be enough to kill.
Apparently, it took, we are told, just five mutations, to change ordinary bird flu – which kills over 50% of those infected, but rarely transmits between people – into an easily transmissible airborne version, that spreads as easily as any other flu – but which is up to 30 times as deadly as the Spanish flu of 1918, which only killed 2% of those it infected.
Truly, this virus is a potential doomsday weapon. Yet, it is held in a special room at the Erasmus Medical Center, in Rotterdam. Should it ever be leaked, billions could die as a result. Richard H. Ebright, a bioweapons expert at Rutgers University commented that there had been hundreds of unintentional leaks of potential bioweapons from US labs – and regarding airborne H5N1 he opined: “It will inevitably escape and within a decade”. Should it ever do so, Ron Fouchier would become the most destructive person in human history. His work would have killed billions of people.
There is only one justification for the kind of work Ron Fouchier has done. That is if this work leads to a means to defeat this illness and prevent it ever becoming a pandemic. However, now that he has created it and spoken of its details at public meetings, it is likely that others will recreate the work. As similar viruses are created elsewhere, the chances of an accidental or deliberate leak escalate. The race, therefore, is now on, between those who would defeat this potential pandemic, and those who would unleash it, accidentally or deliberately.
Oftentimes, it seems that modern man does not have long in this world. We have the intelligence to create powerful technologies, but not the wisdom, as a race, to use them wisely. Ron Fouchier’s work could lead directly to the downfall of modern civilization. Were 60% of people to die, days after being exposed to no more than a sneeze, I very much doubt whether the fabric of civilization would hold – it would rupture into utter terrified chaos.
The real danger of Ron Fouchier’s H5N1 work is that now all the world’s terrorists and unhinged haters of humanity, will know that it is possible to create an airborne H5N1 – by simply announcing that, he has ensured that many others, around the world, will try to do so. Even if these groups don’t deliberately release it, simply by working on it, they greatly increase the chances that it will be released accidentally. Then again, there are foreign powers who might consider releasing such a virological agent. What might North Korea, for instance, do with such a virus? Would they consider it reasonable to lose 60% of their own population (which they don’t seem to have much love for), so as to kill 60% of the rest of the world? Some unstable nation, somewhere, might make that calculation and make a fateful decision.
The onus is now on Ron Fouchier and all the virologists familiar with his work, to create a vaccine against H5N1, or to derive some other means of defeating it. If this is not done, the time might come, after the modern era, when the name Ron Fouchier is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
I am struck by the hint of a self-satisfied smile that seems to adorn all photos of Ron Fouchier that I have seen. I am not sure whether I am reading him wrongly or not – but he does seem to be rather impressed with himself. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be potentially responsible for the death of 60% of humanity and the fall of the modern era – yet that is precisely the potential of the work he seems so smug about.
Now, that you have made the virus Ron, you have a responsibility to learn how to defeat it. Only then would you truly deserve a self-satisfied smile. Only then, will humanity be able to relax, before its impending fate.
Posted by Valentine Cawley
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