Likely Apocalypses: Plague Apocalypse

It’s time to examine some more likely apocalypses! (Yay!) This time, let’s look at the possibility of a deadly plague.
One of the most famous plagues in history is the Plague. That is, the Black Death (or the Black Plague). It killed over one-third of Europe’s population in the mid-1300s. As the Black Death made its way across Europe, towns and villages were full of mass graves, quarantines, plague masks, and dead people. It was not a pleasant time.
I imagine that at the end of it all, people were relieved to, you know, not be dying anymore. It was gone, and life could go back to normal, without the threat of another epidemic.
Except…it’s not gone.
No, really. It isn’t. It’s still around in some parts of the world, lurking, waiting for some unsuspecting rat or flea to pick it up and carry it around. (It was recently found in Arizona.) (Have you stocked up on plague masks yet?)
The intervening centuries have been relatively kind to our plague friend, and it’s just as deadly as it was in the fourteenth century. Sure, there are treatments available nowadays, but it can still kill you.
The “black plague” is actually a bacterial infection that goes by the lovely name of Yersinia pestis (sounds friendly, doesn’t it?). There are three forms: bubonic (found in the lymph nodes); septicemic (found in the bloodstream); and pneumonic (an advanced stage when the bacteria is passed directly from person to person). It is, quite frankly, terrifying and terrible (sort of like Ebola, but from rats and fleas). It’s super virulent, and if it isn’t caught and treated in time, it will probably kill you in a horribly gruesome way. (God help you if you reach the pneumonic stage, because you’ll probably die.)

Can the plague cause an apocalypse?

YOU BETCHA. If not the plague, then a plague. It might be Ebola. Or Marburg. Or SARS. Or some flu variant that hasn’t been discovered yet. But a deadly epidemic (of whatever) has always been a possible apocalypse – there are a lot more bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics these days, and there are some crazy deadly viruses floating around out there.
We have learned, through some awesome epidemics like the Black Death, the Spanish Flu, and even more recent epidemics like H1N1 and SARS, that bacteria and viruses are very effective at killing people. If there’s something out there that’s untreatable, deadly, and spreads quickly, well…bye y’all. It’s been nice knowing you.
I mean, apocalypse by illness is so possible that “biological warfare” is an actual thing.

How can you survive a plague apocalypse?

Get thee to an isolated compound, preferably underground, with no contact with the outside world. But make sure the people in the compound aren’t already infected, or you’re screwed anyway.
Honestly, if a fun new disease is going to kill the human race, there isn’t going to be much that we can do. If our immune systems can’t handle it, then no amount of herbs are going to save us, and no vaccines will, either (especially if it moves too quickly or mutates too fast).

Corpses Everywhere: What to do with The Dead.

When it all goes to shit, the corpses will be everywhere. No, not the zombies, but the dead. The regular dead. The bodies of people who didn’t make it. You think I’m kidding? Take a look on the news about what happens to regions after a natural disaster hits. In places without a unified emergency services, the corpses just lie around decomposing until volunteers and citizens can get to burying them. Post-Apocalypse, there won’t be emergency services, or groups of volunteers, and citizens are going to be too busy fleeing for their lives to dig out the corpses and lay them to rest.
 
Initally, you’ll be among those fleeing citizens, and that’s fine. But when you start settling down, building your community, you are going to need to do something about all those corpses lying around. Why? Two reasons – 1. Health, 2. Morale.
 
Lets get down to the nitty-gritty here. Not wanting to be indelicate, but a decomposing corpse is a health hazard. Bacteria, rot, rats, to mention only the most obvious. Several hundred or thousand corpses are worse. You don’t want to do all the dreadful things needed in order to survive just to end up dying because you didn’t clear out the houses, do you? Plus, the knowledge that all those dead people are there, behind their locked doors, just rotting into oblivion, is bound to be too much for some of your community.
 
So what do you do? In Stephen King’s The Stand, the survivors who massed in Boulder set up a house-clearing team, who went from house to house, removing corpses and planting them in a mass grave. It sounds harsh and cold, but it’s a good idea. You don’t have time to bury everyone individually, and while a funeral pyre seems like a nice idea you probably have more important things to do with the wood.
 
Make sure your burial pit is well outside of town, far enough that your farmers won’t accidentally dig into it in ten or twenty years. Set your team up – ensure they all wear masks and protective suits – and have them go from house to house, clearing out the bodies. If you have any religious leaders in your compound, this is a good time to have them bless the pit. You can’t have them buried individually, but such a guesture will make you look good and make the more faith-inclined among you more comfortable with the idea.
 

Plague pit sign, council estate, Pitfield St, ...
Plague pit sign, council estate, Pitfield St, Hackney, London, UK (Photo credit: gruntzooki)

If you feel guilty, remember it’s a perfectly legitimate choice. During the Black Death, the victims were interred in Plague Pits. These places are now remembered by stone markers. The survivors of the plague- an apocalyptic event if there ever was one, in which around 60% of the population of Europe died – didn’t have time to find out the names of the dead or give them a proper burial, and neither do you.
 
It’s best to do this task sooner rather than later, especially if the apocalypse happens in the warmer months. It should be one of the first thigns you do, in fact, just after building your barriacdes and setting up your government. The volunteers who do the task should be well rewarded, with extra rations or luxury goods. When all the dead have been removed, and the pit has been filled, apply some consideration to the feelings of your people and put some kind of memorial there. Maybe plant a tree, or some flowers. It’ll grow good and strong.
 
In 500 years, when it’s all long gone and a new society has arisen, the archaeologists of the future will find your mass grave and make assumptions based on it. Here is a good chance to put an explanation in with the corpses, if you care about that sort of thing.
 

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BREAKING NEWS: Build yourself a plague mask, NOW.

According to the BBC, researchers have rebuilt the genetic code of the black death.
Because that’s a great idea.
To those of you who aren’t aware, the Black Death was a near-apocalyptic plague in the past: It killed nearly 50 million people. Back then, that was around 30 percent of the population of Europe.
Continue reading “BREAKING NEWS: Build yourself a plague mask, NOW.”