Croatoan Pandemic? Report by the Winchester Family Biz Gazette
 
 
Staff escaping the Niveus warehouse a couple of months ago back have reported, in shock, about colleagues turning into bloodthirsty beasts. The WFB Gazette's Jaspala Wesson spoke to the survivors and dug deeper into the mystery of a behaviour some doctors have come to call 'the Croatoan Phenomenon'.
 
After being saved by a group of mysterious, armed men the Niveus personnel deemed to be safe - but are now haunted by nightmares and PTSD symptoms and the notion that not all infected had been eliminated.
 
If the fears of the Niveus staff hold any truth, thousands, if not millions of citizens may be infected with this strange new virus, CDC executives stated last week, acknowledging that the world could be on track for a pandemic. The virus linked to the disappearance of the citizens of Rivergrove, Oregon, has surfaced in Kansas and Chicago, but - so far - been successfully isolated. In its wake, the World Health Organization raised its alert, but issued orders to keep it strictly under public radar to not provoke panic.
 
The heightened alert came after the discovery of a significant viral depot at Niveus Pharmaceutics, hidden in swine flu vaccine as cover. Authorities began classified investigations to disclose the groups responsible. Suspicions of a terrorism act were quickly raised as such quantities as were found clearly indicate that the nation barely escaped an attack with the chemo-biological weapon this virus undoubtedly was intended to be.
 
Amanda Lee, once MD at a small Oregon clinic, today works on finding out more about this new strain of threat as head doctor of a top secret department of the CDC.  Jaspala Wesson met with Dr Lee who had devoted years of her life to studying a once unknown viral strain today known as the 'rage' virus or, after a name found in the small Oregon town, 'Croatoan'.
 
The call for secrecy will be lifted in a few weeks, as it is announced, and every household is to receive information via television in the course of several months, starting on Sept 24th.
 
Thus Lee agreed to speak about Croatoan in order to try to prevent the panic she fears will ensue. Also, she says, she owes it to a couple of young U.S. Marshals who saved her about three years ago, hoping that her thanks would reach the gentlemen. Also, one of them might be vital to her research. 'I welcome this opportunity.'
 
‘The virus has not managed to go airborne', Lee states, 'nor cross-species. So far it only affects human beings. It's up to you to decide whether you like this or not.'
 
'If you measure the success of a life form by its quantity', Lee continues, 'then there is one clear winner: the virus. No other life form can be found more often, anywhere. If a virus was of the size of a grain of sand, all known viruses would cover the complete surface of our planet with a layer up to 13 miles thick.'
 
Impressive.
 
Since the discovery of the first viruses in the late nineteenth century, millions of different types of viruses have been described, to be found in almost every ecosystem on earth.
 
Scientists assume that the origins of viruses are to be found more than 3, 5 billion years ago, even before there were cells as we know them today. During that age a preliminary stage of life existed, consisting of certain genetic molecules, that was capable of doubling itself by attaching new molecular elements - with those molecules that were most efficiently capable of producing copies being successful.
 
At the threshold to becoming some sort of living being doubling processes were not perfect, yet, so mutations occurred, most of which dying out.

Some managed to exploit this weakness and use other molecules to double themselves at the other molecules expense - bringing to life the first ever parasites, the viruses, even before life as we think of it came into existence. Later, viruses adapted and took cells as hosts, surrounding themselves with a protective protein coat that allowed them to attach themselves to cells.
 
Shortly after the first molecules of life had begun to exist, evolution allowed the virus to exploit others, a very successful principle altogether. This, however, is a scientific hypothesis, as viruses don't form fossils, so, unfortunately, most viruses that have been preserved and stored in laboratories are less than 100 years old. Opinions differ on whether viruses are a form of life or organic structures that interact with living organisms, reproducing multiple copies of themselves through self-assembly.
 
'The phenomenon of Croatoan,' Dr Lee declares, 'leads us to assume, for the first time ever in the history of medical science, this virus might have developed some sort of planning structures, as its actions cannot be compared to those of other viruses. It's more aggressive, more elusive than any other I've ever seen. If I wasn't a scientist, I'd say, this virus was almost supernatural.'
 
Viruses do not have their own metabolism and require a host cell to reproduce. Most known life forms use cell division to reproduce, whereas viruses assemble within cells in a spontaneous manner. As they don't possess any kind of driving power they rely on sheer luck to enter a host organism. An influenza virus travels into another organism via mucous membrane. Dengue viruses enter the victim’s bloodstream through a mosquito bite. The rabies virus is transmitted through the saliva of animals, mostly by a bite. HIV mainly enters a body through body fluids, often via sexual intercourse. None of these parasites, however, is capable of overcoming healthy, intact skin.
 
Lee assumes that 'the Croatoan virus is a neurotropic virus, much like the rabies virus. Except that it carries sulphur with it that disappears after a period of about eight hours. The early stages I encountered in Oregon needed a few hours of incubation time. The new forms we discovered in the dead bodies found at Nucleus Pharmaceutics took a mere five to six seconds. I've never seen anything so aggressive.'
 
‘From the wound of entry, the Croatoan virus travels rapidly along the neural pathways to the central nervous system, the CNS. From there it spreads to other organs. The salivary glands in mouth and cheek tissue quickly contain high concentrations of the virus as does the nasal mucus, any kind of sputum and the blood system in general, thus allowing it to be further transmitted in an efficient manner.’
 
Scientists have not been able, yet, to follow the course of Croatoan to the host’s death, so they claim, due to no infected survivors, but assumptions are made to the following: that the virus eventually causes death, with symptoms comparable to those of other illnesses including fever, general weakness, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, ravenous hunger for raw meat, increase in saliva, difficulty in swallowing, hydrophobia (fear of water), occasional bleeding from orifices, in particular from the eyes, aggression.



One might wonder how scientists came to these conclusions without studying living infected?! Have there been classified studies, illegally? As there are no documented cases of survivors to date, it is safe to say we’re dealing with a death rate of 100 %. With the speed of incubation – were the virus to actually break out, let’s say in the Midwest, within 48 hours all of the US would be affected. Humanity has never faced an enemy this virulent.
 
One of the worst pandemics this planet ever faced was the 1918/19 Spanish Flu pandemic, caused by a severe and extremely deadly influenza virus. It killed about 40-50 million people. That disease killed rather swiftly.
 
Another pandemic raging across the globe today is connected to the HI-virus that causes Aids which, to this day (from the time it was discovered in 1981) it will have killed more than 25 million people, one of the most disastrous epidemics in recorded history, with a virus that’s doing its killing very slowly, a wise evolution for the parasite, as it manages to keep the host alive for a long time.
 
Once having entered the body, the virus breaks open a cell and uses it for its purposes. In order to enter a host, the virus needs said host’s help. And that it enforced with a perfidious trick:
 
Every cell’s surface contains structures based on glucose and protein enabling chemical communication and exchange of substance with other cells, while being unique like individual locks. A virus’ coat holds molecules of similar structures that fit perfectly – like lock and key. If a virus meets a cell with a fitting lock, it will insert its ‘key’, unlock the cell’s ‘door’ and be allowed inside. So, you could compare a virus to a burglar who possesses the picklocks necessary.
 
However, every viral type can only enter a cell that holds the lock to its key. For instance, the HI-pathogen only invades certain groups of cells of the immune system. If a cell’s defence mechanisms fail, it will be submitted to the viral commands and change accordingly, becoming a producer of viral protein molecules, which eventually leads to the construction of copies of viral genetic substance and proteins necessary for the production of viral coats. By that strategy the virus condemns the subdued cell to create viral offspring.
 
‘It’s a treacherous war inside the body’, Amanda Lee stresses. ‘Viral impact on life can be dramatic, as you know. Viruses adapt to new environments at astounding rates and their genetic variability jeopardizes vaccine efficacy. Many viral mutants become resistant to antiviral agents or host immune responses.’
 
Mass production is only a part of viral survival tactics. To survive permanently, they need to find new victims and therefore a way to leave the host and get on to another.  The rabies virus, according to Lee holding close similarity to Croatoan, follows an ingenious strategy: it multiplies initially where it entered the body, then along the neural pathways, enters the brain and destroys extensive areas there which eventually leads to the symptoms described above.
 
The pathogen causes major changes within the host that helps its spread. It does not only reprogram the cells of the host but also his behaviour. But, the host dies in the end, if not inoculated in time.
 
From the viewpoint of evolutionary biology this is quite unusual, as it seems illogical for the virus to kill the host and thus depriving itself of its basis for existence. The answer lies in variability – the rabies virus does not only infect dog or fox, but all kinds of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Thus there is a collection of hosts to choose from which will guarantee the pathogen’s survival.
 
E.g. the Ebola virus reproduces itself mostly within flying fox populations and the infections passes rather harmlessly. Those populations are the virus’ natural reservoir. It rarely enters a human body and then the effects are disastrous. In these cases the human body is nothing but a lethal mistake for the virus.
 
Many viruses humans have been familiar with for a long time rarely claim a high body count, as we have built various forms of immunity. Responsible for that is a long evolutionary process of adaptation, with viruses eventually becoming less aggressive, thus ensuring the chances of being passed on to another host, like for example the virus that causes the common cold which is hardly dangerous.
 
‘As humanity is facing a new threat with Croatoan, we are in desperate need of a vaccine’, says Dr Lee. ‘Our immune system won’t have enough time to adapt. We, as a species, will become extinct in no time.’
 
Lee assumes the Croatoan virus to be specifically designed to serve as a weapon. ‘We don’t know if the people responsible, whoever they are, took care of a vaccine. We have, so far, not managed to develop one, as the sulphur, a vital part to the virus, vanishes too quickly for us to effectively work out an antiserum. To be frank, it scares the living daylights out of everyone who studied the virus. As humanitarians we have to take the responsibility the knowledge of it carries to heart. We are responsible to protect ourselves and our families here, but also everyone around the globe.’
 
She also explains her mysterious encounter with a young man, one of the two marshals, who apparently was immune to the virus. After having been exposed, he didn’t show any symptoms and his blood stayed clear of the tell-tale sulphur. ‘I don’t have to say that his young man his partner referred to as “Sam” is the one person I need to find. Even one sample of his blood might help us create a vaccine to stop an outbreak.’
 
‘We are in a situation where everyone around the planet is vulnerable to an infection we don’t know how to fight and don’t have any immunity to it, except for this one man. We need to find him.’
 
Jaspala Wesson was informed that a nationwide search has been commenced to find the mysterious ‘Sam’ with descriptions in leaflets, newspapers and magazines and soon in television clips.
 
 
 
 
Kind readers, I couldn’t resist this hypothetical, almost fan-fiction like article after reading some most interesting books on viruses. I thought to use some of the knowledge acquired for a bit of fun. Any microbiologists out there – feel free, please, to correct anything you deem wrong. In contrast to you, I have not studied this stuff, only read about it and I’d be most grateful to learn from you.
 
Also, I like the idea that Croatoan will not be forgot in the course of the show. I hope it re-surfaces in some way, and I like the thought of Sam being the only one immune to it and that he might be hunted because of it. Of course, I have no clue whether Supernatural’s creators plan to follow anything like that in the upcoming sixth season. Personally, I would welcome an episode that deals with it. Perhaps we will encounter Croatoan again, perhaps not. But, and I am sure of that, we will have tremendous fun diving into the new season.