Mobile apps are a fabulous waste of time and infinitely diverting. Except for “Plague Inc.”
The object of this strategy game is to achieve biological annihilation of the world with a complex virus or bacterial infection that runs roughshod over borders, seeking warm and moist host bodies. People are infected and die regardless of their religion or nationality. “Plague” is an accelerated depiction of the race between finding a cure for disease and Armageddon.
Slower-motion, real-world infectious diseases are also mass-murdering terrors of the modern era – ones that usually get short shrift except when actual outbreaks occur.
Nearly a century ago, at the end of World War I, more people died of the Spanish Flu – somewhere between 20 million and 40 million – than had died in the “war to end all wars.” That influenza epidemic remains the deadliest disease in recorded history. Yes, more than the 14th century’s Black Death bubonic plague.
The newly resurrected Zika virus is not anywhere near as dangerous or deadly as the Spanish Flu. Zika is like the sniffles when compared to the Black Death. As with most diseases, not everyone gets infected, but everyone is affected.
Biologically, the Zika virus is now “spreading explosively,” according to the World Health Organization.
Fertile women and future pregnancies are considered at risk; there is a link between infected mothers and babies born with abnormally small heads and brains. In parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, the next generation is threatened, and governments are recommending that pregnancies be postponed. Abortion policies are being re-examined.
The virus is spread by mosquitoes and, in a Texas case, sexually transmitted. Questions abound. In hot spots such as Brazil, fear has arrived.
Brazil is one of 20 countries seriously hit by the virus. It is also a country suffering from a dramatic and ongoing economic downturn, political scandal and unpopular leadership. The last thing it needs is a public health crisis.
Economically reeling and politically wobbly Brazil looked toward the 2016 Summer Olympic Games for desperately needed extra tourism revenue and positive country branding. Instead, the Zika virus is actively disrupting travelers’ plans to go to Rio this summer and giving Brazil a bad name. The Brazilian coffers will likely further suffer from an unexpected case of economic microcephaly – a case of shrinking capital.
State economies invariably suffer. In fact, the World Bank warned that the world is “dangerously unprepared” for the next epidemic. But it is not just individuals or nations’ bottom lines that get hurt by the spread of disease; political and social disruption abounds.
In 2014, it was the threat of a wider Ebola pandemic that caused fear; the virulent disease spread by direct physical contact. A low-grade panic ensued via Internet hyperbole and media hyperventilation. Ebola also found fertile political bodies for its spread, with some American lawmakers blaming the virus on President Barack Obama.
During his 2016 State of the Union address, Obama declared that “we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa” – no small feat. But even with this declaration, the virus proved to be a bit more resilient, with a new Ebola death reported in Sierra Leone just a few days later. Viruses are not subject to political calendars but often take advantage of political inaction.
Whether SARS, AIDS, Ebola or now the Zika virus, diseases are hard to combat; vaccines and antiviral and antibiotic drugs take time to test, produce and distribute. Governments need to coordinate to expend resources and political capital to combat disease.
The world has been relatively fast to react to many of the recent biological threats, but there are always new, more virulent strains waiting in the wings.
An interconnected world is a world that spreads disease quickly.
In the app “Plague,” an epidemic is fought by grounding flights, population quarantine and expensive drug development. If the disease spreads and mutates successfully, social chaos ensues, governments collapse, and everyone dies.
“Play again” is an option in “Plague.” In the real world, such an event literally means “game over.”
Markos Kounalakis is a research fellow at Central European University and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KounalakisM.