Quinn never heard the bar as quiet as it was now, especially since there were more of the locals here than on last new years eve. The only thing that broke the silence was the intermittant coughs and sniffles issuing from the few people that still had the remnants of the flu. All of the motley crew of regulars were present this afternoon, plus another two dozen or so people who normally only visited the package store side. Until five minutes ago, when the fiftyish or so woman with greying hair reached the podium and started speaking, they were blabbing away like they usually did (obnoxiously and too loudly). Television reception in this part of the state was spotty at best and few of the families here had the extra cash for satellite reception. The cable company had declined years ago to spend the money to lay their line to the small, isolated community, stating it would take too long to recieve a return on their investment even if the households offered them an exclusive five year contract. Everybody wanted to hear first hand the official report on the disease responsible for all the misery and the handful of businesses and homes that had satellite reception were surely as crowded as Jackie's is. Pam had even gone so far as to unplug the juke-box, in mid song no doubt, and instead of someone complaining over losing a quarter they all focused their rapt attention on the television. There was probably more viewers watching this broadcast than had watched the first men landing on the moon, or the last superbowl for that matter. Quinn was sure the same scene was more than likely being played out all over the U.S. as the Surgeon General gave her initial report on what caused the near extinction event of the rodents world wide and the cause of the 'Rat flu' that affected nearly every species of mammal, including humans.
The flu was gone now, only a handful of people were still suffering from the symptoms but the havoc it inflicted on the food chain would ripple throughout the animal kingdom for decades. To say people were curious about what had just swept the globe was an understatement.
"...and after exhaustive research and thousands of hours of careful postmortum examinations we have finally discovered the agent responsible for the unheard of wave of casualties in the Muroidea family of rodents."
The Surgeon General paused, looking down on her notes and then continued, giving Quinn the impression that she had debated on just exactly how much information she would tell the american people, and the world, about this disease.
"What we found is that the affliction is not due to any virus, bacteria or any other of the more common causes of infection but is in fact due to a parasite related to Toxoplasmosa Gondii. Toxoplasmosa Gondii is a single celled parasite that infects the brains of rats and changes their behavior significantly.
The life cycle of the tiny parasite is unusual because Toxoplasmosa Gondii lives in rats and reproduces in the intestinal tracts of cats. It is not only able to survive the cat's digestion process but actually requires it to reproduce. The parasite ends up in the feces of the cat and if other animals come in contact with the excrement it can cause the animal, including humans, to become infected. In Infected rats the parasite makes its way to the brain and alters the rodent's behavior. Once the parasite establishes itself, the normally fearful rat becomes fatally attracted to the smell of cats and cat urine. The rats certainly no longer fear being eaten by the cats and end up becoming dinner. The ingested parasites then make their way to the cat's stomach and reproduces to complete its life cycle.
Scientists and doctors know that humans can be hosts to Toxoplasma, too. People can become infected by its eggs by handling soil and kitty litter. In some places of Asia (where cats are still on the menu) poorly cleaned knives and cooking utensils can spread the organism. In most people, the infection causes no harm. Toxoplasmosis is generally only a serious risk for people with AIDS or if a person's immune system is weak, then the Toxoplasma parasite can grow uncontrollably and the parasite can kill. Pregnant women are also advised not to handle kitty litter, and Toxoplasmosa Gondii is the reason why. The organism can cause birth defects and miscarriages. There are studies that have shown behavioral changes in humans, including slower reaction times and an increased risk of traffic accidents among infected men. There also may be links to schizophrenia, hallucinations and reckless behavior. In most cases, the parasite lives unnoticed in people's brains. Estimates range from a third to half of the people on Earth are already affected with Toxoplasma."
The Surgeon General paused again and calmly took a drink of water from the glass on her podium while three voices from the audience asked questions of her at the same time. Holding up one hand to silence the reporters and assembled journalists she continued.
"Now as I have stated, the agent behind the rodent die off is not Toxoplasmosa Gondii, but is only related to it. This new mutation, which has been tentatively been named Toxoplasmosa Mondus Omni (Latin for 'The bow shaped organism that covered the world'), differs from Tox Gondii in the fact that Tox Mondus no longer requires transmission into a feline to reproduce and that it has of course, proven fatal to over ninety percent of the rodent family Muroidea.
Tox Mondus appears to have evolved and spread from the northern mountains of North Korea by way of airborne transmission of its eggs, which accounts for how the organism spread so far and so quickly.
Since most of the mammal species have never encountered this new parasite before, initial contact with the minute eggs caused an immediate immune response similiar to an allergic reaction.
There is absolutely no evidence that Tox Mondus can survive or breed in any other host besides the animals that comprise the Muroidea family and since most of that branch has unfortunately been eliminated, this pathogen is expected to burn itself out as quickly as it came into being.
There have been very few deaths reported because of Tox Mondus, world wide, and at this point whatever danger this parasite once posed has passed. While there may continue to be isolated outbreaks within the animal kingdom for the near future, none here at the CDC expects it to have any further impact upon humans."
The Surgeon General stopped for questions and the only thing new she had to say during all of it was that things constantly are evolving and here was visable proof.
Murmurs and questions went through the patrons of Jackie's grill, some happy and reassured by the government's assessment and some were confused and still worried by what they heard.
"So what caused the 'Rat flu' then?" Mark asked no one in particular, unsure if he had understood what the woman on TV had meant.
"It wasn't the flu at all. It was your bodies reaction to the nasty little parasite's eggs that made everybody feel sick." George informed him, more than glad to enlighten his less than brilliant fellow citizen.
"Like tiny insect eggs?" Mark's face scrunched up in disgust as he thought of small bugs trying to hatch inside his body.
"Well, I guess so." Suddenly George didn't feel as confident now that he realized that a single celled creature had tried to colonize his flesh.
Quinn watched Pam shrug off any doubt about the future, completely pacified with what she had heard, her spirits bouyed by the good amount of tips she was going to take home today. She was smiling and joking with everyone, knowing today's take home was going to be more than what she normally earned all week.
For all the CDC's reassurance though, Quinn felt uneasy knowing the 'Rat flu' hadn't been caused by a normal, run of the mill virus at all. The thought of a parasite that invades one's brain gave him, and probably most people, a case of the 'wileys'.