> Seth Underwood Stories: The Potential Pandemic of Squirrelpox Virus Variant A (Est. Read Time- 4 min.)

The Potential Pandemic of Squirrelpox Virus Variant A (Est. Read Time- 4 min.)

A flash fiction about the future use of Big Data

Naomi Horton, the director of Pandemic Future Analysis with Mountain Intelligence, headed to the secured computer core with knitted brows. Inside, sitting before a large bank of glowing video screens, was the environmental data analyst, Zoulal Dadourian.

“Zoulal, are you sure about these results?!” Naomi asked as she shook in her hand the printout of the results from the field agent, Nam Dae-Won in southeast Asia.

Zoulal spun her chair to face Naomi. “Rhythm ran Dae-Won’s data through 20 million possibilities. All of it using his prevalence data of the squirrelpox virus variant A in the Malayan black giant squirrel populace. There’s a 95% confidence that this virus will mutate in the next ten years into the deadliest smallpox virus seen in over 100 years. The projected deaths are in the millions in just the first two years.”

Naomi knew what this meant. Her head sunk to her chest as her black locks flowed forward. The tension in her face left. She almost dropped the report to the floor, but gripped it tighter with frustration. The last time the artificially intelligent thinking machine, Rhythm, had produced such results, it resulted in the extinction of the Hardwicke’s woolly bat over a simple respiratory virus.

The local Chinese military reacted by torching the forest areas where the tiny bat had lived. And then nearby governments spread those fires to all southeast Asia to ensure maximum coverage.

Thousands of acres of forests burnt to the ground to exterminate this little bat out of fear of a respiratory virus spreading to humans and killing us in the thousands globally.

That was just five years ago, and the international backlash was immense. It caused the World Health Organization Director-General to resign.

Mountain Intelligence survived the controversy. What they did as a business was standard practice in  big data predictive modeling. The biggest users of their technology were the global stock markets trying to avoid panics in order to smooth growth curves.

Mountain Intelligence was still a contractor to the World Health Organization to run epidemiological predictions based on historical big data of vectors and viral mutation rates. But there was a management shakeup at the top with the CEO and CFO both leaving to satisfy the international press.

Since the woolly bat incident, significant improvements in Rhythm’s neural algorithms were made. All done to prevent such a future catastrophic resultant. And yet, Naomi was holding in her hand, the results showing once a more potential deadly pandemic.

“Zoulal, if I report this to the Director-General’s office, they will question the data behind it. Are we certain Nam Dae-Won’s data is clean?”

“He’s provided over 10 years of sampling across the region on this squirrel, it’s habitat, and human interactions with it. That included the impacts of habitat loss caused by the fires five years ago.”

With increasing frustration showing on Naomi’s face, she scrunched up the report tighter in her hand. “Thanks to all those fires five years ago this big squirrel is on the endangered list, and now Rhythm is telling us we should exterminate it. How do I tell the Director-General we need to destroy hundreds of acres of southeast Asian forests again?!”

“Rhythm had some possibility outcomes using sterilization controls. The number of human deaths were not as significant as doing nothing, so maybe that could be an option instead of habitat destruction?”

“What about a trap and kill program?”

“Rhythm ran those possibilities, and the risks were double for odds crossing over to humans than using a sterilization program.”

“And the data source on viral mutation is solid?”

“Yes. It comes from the U.S. CDC animal surveillance programs dealing with the original squirrelpox virus when it mutated into variant A and spread to Asia.”

The fact comforted Naomi that the mutation data was from a reputable source, and she felt a little tension leave her face. “So, either we suggest an expensive sterilization program with a chance mutation risk to humanity or burn down the remaining parts of the southeast Asia forests to kill off this squirrel’s habitat and ensure humanity’s survival.”

“That’s the two choices we have to give them.” Zoulal said, shrugging her shoulders.

Naomi hit her forehead with the printout. “God, I hate my job.”


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Image Use

Squirrel Image- Untitled image, by Ammar Issa, Source: Unsplash

Virus Image- This illustration provided a 3D graphical representation of a number of Rotavirus virions, set against a black background. Note the organism’s characteristic, wheel-like appearance, which was made visible when viewed under the electron microscope. It’s this morphology that gives the Rotavirus its name, which is derived from the Latin rota, meaning "wheel". Rotaviruses are nonenveloped, double-shelled viruses, making them quite stable in the environment., By CDC, Source Unsplash

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