Today, we will be discussing a disease that has been sweeping the entire world in the past week… “the second great plague.
As intro music plays: This podcast is presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC: Safer, healthier people.
*music fades out*
When you were young, did you ever want to stay home from school so badly that you pretended to be sick? Did you ever fake this sickness to such an extent that you actually became ill? Many parent would likely deny that this is a physical possibility; after all, it’s just a mental thing.
However, the mind is a powerful thing- is it possible that your mind can decide whether or not you are actually sick? There is a global epidemic beginning right now. Look at the infected. Listen to their stories. Is it really just a mental thing?
You’re listening to episode 164 of Contagion, our weekly segment where we bring to you the latest news on infections around the globe. Today, we will be discussing a disease that has been sweeping the entire world in the past week. 36 nations across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa have reported deaths from infection. In the United States, 47 of 50 states have done the same, and the numbers are only increasing. Schools have been shutting down, companies are
sending their employees on paid leave, and people are afraid to leave their homes. So what is this new disease that is causing so much chaos?
There seems to be no official name for this disease yet. Media and popular discussion have been simply referring to it as “the second great plague”, a sequel to the Great Plague which swept Eurasia in the mid-1300s and caused over 20 million deaths. This is beginning to seem an apt name when we see the damage it has already done and how little we know of it still. Just as the first great plague caused endless devastation with no end in sight, it seems this disease is quickly
escalating to a similar level.
To clarify some of the rumors surrounding this mysterious epidemic, we will be contacting Dr. Samarie Wilson, renowned virologist of Princeton University. Please hold for one moment as we connect lines.
*phone rings*Dr: (Sounding hoarse) Hello?
Host: Hello, Dr. Wilson! This is host Christy Lee calling from the CDC weekly podcast Contagion. I was wondering if we could speak with you briefly about the current deadly epidemic?
Dr: I would love to provide any information that I have. (Coughs) Unfortunately, what we know is not much.
Host: It’s been a week of pure speculation and fear, doctor. Any information you have would be highly appreciated.
Dr: Doctors, scientists, and experts in every field of medicine around the globe have been collaborating to decipher this new disease, but it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. We’ve been studying the cells of those who have passed away from infection, as well as the cells of those who are currently diagnosed and hospitalized, but we have yet to find any specific virus or bacteria which has caused it. Without knowing this, we cannot trace the path of infection. We have no patient zero, and we have no lead to a cure. It is the most confounding thing I have ever encountered in all my years of research.
Host: Is there anything we do know?
Dr: We know what the symptoms are. It starts just as a common cold or flu would, with a fever, chills, and mild body ache. Within 24 hours, however, this turns into extremely high fevers, or hyperpyrexia, of 105 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Worse, your body goes through terrible pains, vomiting, and diarrhea. Within 28 hours, all infected patients are dead.
Host: I’ve never heard of anything so serious. Doctor, how can we guard ourselves against transmission?
Dr: This, unfortunately, we do not know. However, there have been some interesting speculations going around. Some scientists are saying that the plague is transmitted through paranoia.
Host: Paranoia? (laughs nervously) What do you mean by this, doctor? I’m beginning to get a bit paranoid myself.
Dr: Some believe that the plague is mentally contagious. Scientists are relating this to the spread of emotions, where by subconsciously imitating someone else’s emotional displays, your body begins to accept this emotion as your own. In simplified terms, by being around someone who is feeling sad, you can actually begin to feel sad as well.
Host: I understand this, but how does this translate to the current plague?
Dr: Essentially, when you are around an infected patient, you begin to think that you may have caught the disease from then. It is at this point that some scientists believe you plant the roots of infection in your own body. Personally, I do not know if I support this line of belief. I realize the power of the human mind, but this seems too extreme. Doctors are going as far as to advise people to stop thinking about the disease. Hearing about it through media, discussing it with others, and thinking about it excessively can actually lead to infection as well – even without contact with an ill individual. I don’t believe it, though. (coughs) There is simply too much supposition to be scientifically sound (coughs again). I apologize, but I am feeling a bit warm. If that is all the questions you have, I believe I will go rest now.
Host: Yes, of course. Thank you so much for your time, Dr. Wilson, and for updating us on the current epidemic. Unfortunately, that’s all the time for today. So to all of our current listeners out there, we hope you enjoyed this episode, and we will see you again next week. This is Contagion.
This podcast was made possible by history.com’s information on the Black Death, Stacey Colino’s US News Article “Are You Catching Other People’s Emotions”, and Writing Seminar 164: Contagion. Thank you to Professor Ureña and to all of my fellow classmates.
Image Credit: “Plague Doctor” via Wellcome Collection