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Epidemic in space

  1. Jun 25, 2016 #1
    I plan to write a medical crime story take place on an asteroid colony.

    The place has been quarantined due to an epidemic caused by an extremophile bacteria. They genengineered such things on Mars, in order to create biogenic material with minimal care outside the lead-glass covered cities.

    I wonder, whether my following lines sounds realistic? (Said by ship doctor, who fled from Mars)

    "It is quite possible, that i know more about epidemics than those professors. There were barely any sickness caused by bacteria or virus in the asteroid belt, due to strict medical examinations and sterilization processes when trade with Earth. But Mars feared epidemics, since it became a tourist attraction, and also a new breed of contagion appeared. They dont know, whether someone created it, or emerged spontaneously after the size of artificial biosphere reached a certain size."

    "Strange, that an extremophile could have mutated so fast, if it is meant to withstand standard amount of decontamination radiation, its DNA should be very resistant to mutation."

    "Maybe we should fight fire with fire, use another martian bacteria to destroy it, they dont attack human bodies."

    "Martians are so proud of their encryption method, based on hieroglyphs and image processing. In fact, someone who knows how to deal with it, could crack their average system within a week. I can fake myself to be a reknowned martian professor of epidemology."
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 25, 2016 #2

    DaveC426913

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    Not sure how married you are to the idea of an exotic pathogen. It could be just a plain ol Earth virus. The more isolated a population is, the more its viral load differs. Eventually, all sorts of normal Earth contagions will be extinct, and the colony will lose immunity. A common cold could run rampant through the colony, killing people who have no resistance. (This is actually what happened in Wells' War of the Worlds. Martians had extinguished all their pathogens, and thus were utterly defenseless when they came to Earth.)

    BTW, your last paragragh seems non sequitur; It seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the passage.
     
  4. Jun 25, 2016 #3

    Drakkith

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    There are some glaring grammatical and punctuation errors, but I can't see anything fundamentally wrong with the ideas presented by the speakers.

    Why does it need to be a Martian bacteria and why doesn't that bacteria attack humans?
     
  5. Jun 25, 2016 #4
    Although they can still have vaccinations. Last page i just wondered whether it is total nonsense that someone can fake himself to be a professor in the age of computers. I thought, that the point of the martian extremophile is that it could passed through decontamination procedures. ( Not invulnerable to heat, but radiation, chemicals almost worthless)

    Fight fire with fire, i wondered whether their biology is so alien, that immune system have serious problems to destroy them?
     
  6. Jun 25, 2016 #5

    Drakkith

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    Ah, but what does "biology so alien" mean? We still have diseases here in the present that are almost invariably fatal, yet they've been evolving alongside us for millions of years. The changes required to evade the immune system aren't always drastic. They are usually small changes to chemical markers or structural changes to surface molecules. Isolation simply allows these small changes to evolve without a corresponding adaption by the immune system.
     
  7. Jun 26, 2016 #6
    I thought that another extremophile bacteria could eat them, while martians already developed vaccinations against the other one. Biology so alien : i read it was fake that a bacteria had arsen in DNA instead of phosphor, but maybe in this case even fundamentals could be different.
     
  8. Jun 26, 2016 #7

    Drakkith

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    Inside someone's body? The other bacteria would also have to evade the immune system and not harm the person.

    Did you mean arsenic and phosphorous?
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016
  9. Jun 26, 2016 #8
    I see the first one is a long shot. Maybe use the other bacteria to decontaminate the station without subjecting the life support to big heat?
    Sorry, my english isnt the best, yes arsenic and phosphorous.
     
  10. Jun 26, 2016 #9

    Drakkith

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    You could try that I suppose. You could also have them develop a bacteriophage that targets the pathogen, if they have the means to develop one. I'm sure there are several ways to get rid of it, but I'm not that familiar with curing epidemics.
     
  11. Jun 27, 2016 #10

    Ryan_m_b

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    As a general point any space colony trying to fully sterilise its environment is going to suffer long term health problems as a consequence. It's an open question how bad it would be for a human to be born and raised in abiotic conditions but at the very least we could expect a host of autoimmune problems. The hygiene hypothesis proposes that cleaner environments during development lead to increased likelihood of allergies and other problems in later life because the immune system has not developed properly. In other words whilst care would be taken on a space colony to screen for very dangerous pathogens they're going to have to have some therapy or environmental conditions that stimulate the immune system.

    Wrt to the epidemic the response is going to vary based on what the pathogen is. Is it airborne? Water borne? Is it spread by contact, the air conditioning units, blood etc. It seems likely that an important first response would be to set up quarantines and curfews, isolate as many areas of the habitat as possible. Then track down the source of the disease (epidemiologically tracing how the disease spread and who too should be a lot easier in a small, closed community which is likely covered in sensors). How to treat will depend on what it is, are there any known antibiotics that work against it for instance?

    If you really want to use another organism to fight it then phage therapy could work. If the pathogen in question is slow to mutate (and therefore adapt) once you have one good treatment it should work completely.
     
  12. Jun 27, 2016 #11
    Does increased amount of radiation counts as stimulation to immune system? I think workers are expected to go frequently outside, not just solve outside tasks with remote control.

    I think it is airbore, not known antibiotic, source is bioterrorism.
     
  13. Jun 27, 2016 #12

    Drakkith

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    I don't think so. I don't think radiation has a beneficial effect on the immune system. In fact, I believe it has the opposite effect of damaging and suppressing the immune system.
     
  14. Jun 28, 2016 #13

    Ryan_m_b

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    No. The immune system needs to be exposed to a diverse range of antigens during development in order to mature properly. Radiation does nothing in regard to this.

    Phage therapy is an alternative treatment to infectious disease when antibiotics aren't effective. The standard method for this is:

    1) Isolate the infectious agent and culture it in vivo.

    2) Treat your cultures with solutions containing phages (can be harvested from the environment or from a library).

    3) Take any culture plates in which the bacteria die and isolate the phages.

    4) The phages that have been shown to kill off the bacteria are then exposed to culture plates again in order to grow more.

    5) Apply a cocktail of these phages (because ideally you want many) to the patient.

    Given that this is an SF world there may be many steps that speed this up. For instance: rapid analysis of the pathogen and a well stocked phage library might render the need to culture new ones obsolete (in most cases). In addition a sophisticated chemical syntheses lab/machine could make viruses de novo from molecular stores.
     
  15. Jul 6, 2016 #14
    Ok, so they shouldnt kill all bacteria on the colony, especially, that some workers go back to Earth. But with the lack of serious contagions, i expect the lack of expertise and top quality equipment. Phage therapy, great, that is what i need. :)

    I wonder how could they quarantine an unexpected amount of people? (Im not sure, whether the sick, or the healty ones should be quarantined for protection) I thought, that steam some rooms, make them airtight, make a small airlock into the door. After the rooms cooled, lock the people, and everything that goes in or out (bottles of air, water, human waste, canned food) receives a heating procedure.
     
  16. Jul 6, 2016 #15

    Drakkith

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    First, there is a difference between quarantine and isolation. From the CDC webpage: http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/aboutlawsregulationsquarantineisolation.html

    Isolation and Quarantine
    Isolation and quarantine help protect the public by preventing exposure to people who have or may have a contagious disease.

    • Isolation separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick.
    • Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick.
    In addition to serving as medical functions, isolation and quarantine also are “police power” functions, derived from the right of the state to take action affecting individuals for the benefit of society.

    If it helps, you can find U.S. laws regarding isolation and quarantine can be found here: http://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/specificlawsregulations.html

    You can find links to different regulations regarding reporting and management of ill passengers of airliners, cargo ships, and cruise ships on the left side of the CDC page. Hope that helps!
     
  17. Jul 8, 2016 #16

    Ryan_m_b

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    This is a space station right? A large one? It would be mental not to design it with failsafes in case of hull breach. Given that it likely has heavy, airtight doors spread throughout the habitat designed to seal off areas as needed. Presumably it would be easy to use these to isolate sections of the habitat to prevent the spread of the disease.
     
  18. Jul 8, 2016 #17
    Well it is a big O'Neil cylinder, although i imagined, that the average construction is a cramped outer layer, and a big inner layer, the outer layer is suitable for that purpose.

    I also wondered about the De novo syntheses.
    I they could analyze the contagion's DNA and transmit it, than any Earth lab could do something about it, and they sure have expertise and top grade equipment, they dont have to actually go there... However even if they have really developed technology, if the contagion has "alien" DNA (arsenic instead of phosphorous, extra aminos whatever) than i guess it wont be that trivial, and the martian ship doctor, who actually goes there, could have the support role.
     
  19. Jul 12, 2016 #18

    Ryan_m_b

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    It would be insane to build such a large open area without failsafes similar to those I mentioned. For a start most, if not every building should be built with the capability to become air tight and keep everyone inside alive for days, maybe weeks. If you don't have measures like that then eventually everyone will die because at some point your tinned ecosystem will breach. This might even go so far as to have the internal tube divided up into cells.

    If the pathogen has radically different biochemistry then it would be difficult to analyse, though presumably there is experience with making such organisms so there would be some experience. As with most things like this there would likely be an arms race between bioweapons that are hard to treat and biodefences against them.
     
  20. Sep 29, 2016 #19
    I wonder, could the bioterrorist be identified with simply dead skin cells?
    I read that in outer layer of the skin, the cells lose their core, are the dead, fallen cells still enough for DNA test?
     
  21. Sep 29, 2016 #20

    Drakkith

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    I initially was going to say that this was absolutely a possibility, but now that I think about it I really don't know. Good question.
     
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