Wuhan-400, ARDS: Fictional doomsday viruses that mirror the real ones

Updated on Feb 13, 2020 07:41 PM IST
American novelist Dean Koontz wrote the novel, a thriller, “The Eyes of the Darkness” in 1981 – it is about a virus called “Wuhan-400” developed by Chinese scientists at bio laboratory in, well, Wuhan.
A woman wearing a mask is seen at a subway station in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, February 13, 2020.(REUTERS)
A woman wearing a mask is seen at a subway station in Shanghai, China, as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, February 13, 2020.(REUTERS)
Hindustan Times, Beijng | BySutirtho Patranobis

Amid the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak in China, Twitter users are scratching their heads to make sense of a fictional coincidence bordering on the bizarre.

American novelist Dean Koontz wrote the novel, a thriller, “The Eyes of the Darkness” in 1981 – it is about a virus called “Wuhan-400” developed by Chinese scientists at bio laboratory in, well, Wuhan.

The city of Wuhan, the capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei, is the epicentre of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak that has so far killed 1,371 people and infected nearly 60, 000 globally.

“The scientist leading the Wuhan-400 research is called Li Chen, who defects to the US with information about China’s most dangerous chemical weapons. Wuhan-400 affects people rather than animals and cannot survive outside the human body or in environments colder than 30 degrees Celsius,” Taiwan News said in a report on Thursday.

“Wuhan-400 is a perfect weapon. It afflicts only human beings. No other living creature,” the book says.

The similarities between the made-up virus and the Wuhan virus has got Twitter users struggling to comprehend the improbable coincidence, the report said.

Some readers have pointed out that earlier editions of the book refer to the virus as Gorki-400, and made in erstwhile Soviet Union.

“In response, several netizens have posted pictures of the book’s newer editions to explain the name of the virus was indeed altered, possibly due to the end of the Cold War in 1991,” the report said.

In Koontz’s own description, it is a “…a modest little thriller about a woman, Tina Evans, who lost her child, Danny, when he was in an accident on a trip with his scouting troop.”

She later finds out her son was accidentally infected with the virus.

It’s, of course, not the first time that uncanny similarities between fiction and fact have emerged about virus outbreaks.

A novel jointly written by Robert Ludlum and Gayle Lynds in 2000 mentioned a disease called the “acute respiratory distress syndrome” (ARDS) in the book called the Hades Factor – a good three years before the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic broke out in China first, and then spread globally.

“A homeless man in Boston, an army major in California and a teenage girl in Atlanta all die suddenly and painfully, each a victim of an unknown doomsday virus. For three days, a team of scientists in a US government laboratory has been frantically trying to unlock the virus’ secret…” read the back cover blurb of the novel.

Eerily, the symptoms of ARDS and SARS – and also actually true for Covid-19 – were similar: Cold, cough, fever and respiratory problems.

In 2006, the novel was adapted for a made-for-television thriller starring Stephen Dorff and Mira Sorvino, titled “Covert 1- The Hades Factor.

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