September 25, 2011

The flash game Pandemic 2 let's YOU be the infectious disease!

To effectively fight any enemy, you have to understand it first. This is one of the most basic principles when you are trying to prevent infectious diseases. But every disease and its causative agent are different. Modes of infection, transmission, outside host survivability, symptoms and especially the underlying molecular biology is hard to pin down and explain with only one model. But there are still a couple of basic principles that are very nicely illustrated in the game Pandemic 2 below.

In this game you take on the role of an infectious disease. You can choose between being a virus, bacteria or a parasite (no fungi though, sorry). Then you are directly thrown on a world map. Congratulations, you just infected your first human in a random region of the world. Each region is characterized by a set of variables and measures taken by the government to control your disease. Many regions have ship yards and airports that are instrumental in spreading the infection. Also, national water supplies and hospitals are important factors.

While randomly occuring natural disasters helps you, governments will  hinder you by taking increasingly drastic measures.

The effectiveness of your disease depends basically on three variables. Lethality does exactly what it says on the box, a measure of how fast your disease kills an average human. Infectivity tells you how well the disease is transmitted and spreads through a population. Finally, Visibility determines how fast authorities react to your disease by closing airports, harbors, public transport and so on. For example, in the games term, the Ebola virus would have a high lethality, a medium infectivity but it would be very visible while HIV/AIDS would have a low visibility with medium infectivity and lethality. You can increase these variables by buying new traits with evolution points that are awarded for meeting certain milestones (number of infected, spread to a new region etc.).

Buying new symptoms, resistances and ways of transmission will affect the three key variables in different ways.

The game is relatively straight forward and has a good tutorial so just give it a try and see how you do. But it makes you realize how easily diseases can develop and spread. You also notice how hard the job of national and international health organizations like the WHO is to actually contain and combat a disease. So next time someone asks you what you did in your coffee break, just say you wiped out mankind. But remember, Madagaskar is always the hardest place to get. Enjoy!

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