It was several years ago, and a Chicago television interviewer who had surprisingly kind things to say about my then-new novel FINAL EPIDEMIC, threw in a final --and in light of today's flu-outbreak headlines, a woefully uninformed-- aside.
"Of course, with today's modern medicine, an influenza pandemic is pretty much a thing of the past, isn't it?" she asked.
I was taken aback for a moment. I had just spent a significant part of the past few minutes describing the days I had spent in Atlanta, interviewing CDC experts who had assured me that only by outlandish luck had the world avoided another in the cycle of killer flu pandemics-- who had, in fact, marveled at that fact. Influenza had, until recent decades, revisited mankind in highly lethal form roughly every 60 years or so. I had talked about the near-misses we had in the latter half of the 20th Century; had related the educated guesswork involved in the annual formulation of flu vaccine, modern medicine's primary defense against the always-mutating viral microbes. I had even repeated what my CDC sources had told me about vaccine preparation: under the best of circumstances, a minimum of six months is needed before any new flu vaccine can be put into production.
It was, it had been emphasized to me, simply a matter of time and random genome-mutating chance.
"My" pathogen was H1N1, a variation of which in 1917-18 had killed at least 40 million persons (some estimates double that figure). Today, the CDC announced that the new flu threat comes from ...a variant of H1N1.
That, and too many other parallels from a fictional thriller I had launched years ago, evoked a reminder of the novel's back-cover blurb-- a blurb I had found humorously hyperbolic at the time of publication.
"This is how the world ends..." a blurb-writer at the publishing house had written. "An invisible killer has returned. The last time it raged, upward of forty million died --in a matter of months.
"Now it is back, released to prey on an unsuspecting, unprotected world.
"This time, nothing can stop it."
I had laughed back then, shaken my head at what I had considered overwrought prose from an overenthusiastic marketing department.
Today, it somehow seems more than a little chilling.