August 16, 2012

Guest 400-Word Scenario #4: MRSA's Deadly Cure?

Andrew Large

CEO, Cleaning and Support Services Association

[Guest blogger Andrew Large has a dark but seemingly plausible future scenario to EXACTLY 400 words.]

By 2020, doctors were getting desperate.

The initial happy reduction in methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and similar infections had shockingly reversed. Deaths had risen well above the 2002 level of 100,000 per year.

Worse, community-acquired MRSA became an epidemic, and those with skin ulcers, especially diabetics and the obese, began to die in very large numbers.

Ironically, the cure for MRSA was to be far worse than the disease.

Antibiotics that disrupted the cell wall of the staph aureus bacteria had ceased to have any effect on MRSA by 2025. The US had returned to a pre-antibiotics age, where a cut finger could kill.

For one group of scientists, a solution was apparent. They had reviewed work on bacteriophages (viruses that attack and kill bacteria) from the 1920s and concluded that a genetically modified virus could be produced to target MRSA and similar bacteria. Laboratory results were encouraging, and the Administration, anxious for a rapid solution to the infection epidemic, waived the normal clinical trial process so that the phage could be widely used to treat victims across the country.

In spring 2027, it was as if a curse had been lifted. Patients who received the phage therapy recovered quickly from their infections, and deaths from MRSA plummeted. Encouraged by this, come 2028 phage therapy was commonplace. 

But the first bad omens were already evident as early as December 2027. A doctor noticed that more of her patients than usual had digestive complaints. As the months passed, there seemed to be a link between the phage therapy and sickness and death caused by failure in the digestive tract.

Then areas of bare ground began to appear, at first in urban areas, but then more widely; and where there was bare ground, the incidence of death due to digestive failure was also high and growing.

The horrific connection was now evident. The bacteriophage had itself mutated to attack the abundant supply of bacteria in the general environment. It had started by killing bacteria in the gut of patients, causing their deaths, and then spread to kill bacteria in the ground and deprive plants of nutrients, leading to vast tracts of lifeless soil. As 2030 approached, the virus was spreading out of control across the US. International air travel had stopped in an attempt to stem the spread, but it was too late.

For survivalists, it really was time to bug out.

Andrew Large is the Chief Executive Officer of the Cleaning and Support Services Association, the leading UK trade association for building service contracting. Prior to that he had a wide-ranging career in both business and government. He has been interested in scenario planning since his MBA studies introduced him to the work of Pierre Wack at Shell.