Is this the end? If you’re a follower of Stephen King, you know that human civilization isn’t likely to collapse under the heel of a cataclysmic war, environmental disaster or errant space debris—nothing so dramatic or special effects driven. Instead, human life will most likely be snuffed out by something we can’t see—a virus. In his mammoth novel (1153 pages in its uncut form), The Stand, King writes about a “superflu” that wipes out much of human civilization. Given the recent hysteria over influenza A(H1N1) (keeping with the most current nomenclature) you’d think King might have been onto something.
In The Stand, the superflu, referred to colloquially as “Captain Trips,” was human as opposed to porcine in origin. The bug escaped from a government weapons facility, as these sorts of super viruses are wont to do, and crawled across North America, infecting 99.4 percent of the population and killing its victims at a 100 percent clip. Fictitious or not, those are grave numbers indeed. How does H1N1 stack up so far? The fortunate answer is not very well.
According to the World Health Organization’s update 10, released May 2, 658 cases of the virus have been reported in 16 different countries. Of those cases, 397 have been reported from Mexico, where 16 have died due to the virus. In the U.S., 160 cases have been reported, resulting in one death (sadly, a 21-month-old child). If you’re a numbers person, that’s a mortality rate of about 2.6 percent. While it’s sad that families have been tragically affected by this outbreak, 97 percent chance of survival are pretty good odds you’ll be alright, even if you do contract this affliction. In light of the statistics, the WHO is urging everyone to remain calm, though their update did seem to start off rather ominously with, “The situation continues to evolve.”
Sorry everyone, it looks like our mundane lives are going to continue in spite of this near pandemic. Society probably won’t grind to a halt, and your bank (if it’s still around) will still expect to receive your car payments in a timely manner. Pigs, on the other hand, are getting fucked over a barrel.
Pigs are wonderful (albeit tasty) creatures. However, they’ve often been reviled, demonized and misunderstood by humanity. The supposed “swine flu” outbreak isn’t doing anything for their image. But more than just a PR nightmare, pigs now may have to fear an oncoming genocide.
Egypt has pressed forward on its plan to slaughter upwards of 400,000 of its pigs. Originally, Egyptian officials labeled this as a “precautionary measure” to guard itself against the swine flu (though no known cases have been reported in Egypt), but now that the WHO has reported that there is no known evidence that pigs can pass the flu on to humans, those officials are now saying that their decision is “a general health measure,” according to the BBC.
The mass slaughter, which is expected to take over a month, mostly affects Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up 10 percent of the country’s population. In slums around Cairo, Coptic Christian rubbish collectors raise pigs to supplement their income. The pigs are fed whatever edible trash their owners can’t re-use. The Egyptian government has defended its actions by saying that this unstructured pig rearing is unsafe and hopes to use the cull as a segue into proper farms. The rubbish collectors will be compensated for their lost livestock to the tune of 1,000 Egyptian pounds per pig (according to Timesonline.co.uk). Regardless of compensation, the Coptic community has been up in arms about the decision, in some cases blocking the streets to prevent entrance by Health Ministry vehicles, and, according to the BBC, armed guards have accompanied pig collectors heading to ensure that farmers aren’t hiding or smuggling livestock.
Is this a genuine concern, or just another case of a government using fear to wield power over a hapless minority? It’s something to think about. Either way, King’s dark man, Randall Flagg, is probably somewhere smiling beneath his shadowy hood.