The official name for this pandemic is BECD variant epsilon. However it quickly became known as Harvey’s flu based on patient zero, Harvey Reynolds. Reynolds was a NVAP veterinarian researching an outbreak off BECD, bovine enteric coronavirus disease, reported in Texas for APHIS.
The cases of BECD were believed caused by the importation and smuggling of herds of cattle from isolated areas in Mexico. These livestock were immune to the disease but when driven north due to the severe drought affecting the southern regions of North America the last decade, they came into contact with herds that did not have the same immunity. The result was sudden, but sporadic outbreaks of a disease in cattle herds with symptoms of diarrhea, bloated intestines, aborted pregnancies. Symptoms were first reported in early September of 2038. Over eighty percent of cattle infected succumbed to the disease within ten days of exhibiting signs.
First reports were that the disease was isolated only to cattle with no cross over infections to other livestock or humans. This changed in late November.
Mr. Reynolds began investigating the sporadic but rapidly increasing reports of what, by then, had been determined to be a new coronavirus that affected bovines on behalf of APHIS in early November 2038. A highly qualified vet with over twenty years of experience both in the United States and abroad, he worked to isolate how infections were spreading and ways to isolate infected herds.
However Mr. Reynolds was suffering from a slight cold at the time period when he flew to Texas to begin his work. Due to his work and research with ill livestock, Reynolds had developed a mild case of H7N7 (LP), a low pathogenic variant that is one of the few strains capable of cross specie infection. Known to infect birds, pigs, seals, and wild horses, Reynolds most likely picked up the infection from swine in Michigan. It had not been known to infect bovines.
Whether the BECD jumped to Reynolds or if his H7N7 infected a bovine with BECD remains unclear. It is only known that Harvey Reynolds became the first known case of the BECD epsilon variant. Unfortunately, this knowledge came too late.
The mutation was not immediate. Mr. Reynolds worked on BECD in Texas through most of early December, not leaving until just before the holidays to attend a meeting arranged by WHO in Europe. BECD had begun to die down in cattle herds and the disease was believed to be contained when Reynolds left to update WHO on what he had learned of the disease. He was, at that time, infected by the epsilon variant.
Potentially due to being the initial host and recovering from H7N7 which may have offered Reynolds some initial immunity or because the mutation was developing within him, Reynolds’ symptoms were the slowest developing of all reported cases occurring after him and made him a super spreader. He infected twenty-three people traveling between Texas and Geneva, including those infected at the conference. The addition of the H7N7 genome allowed the more difficult spreading BECD to be transmitted aerially through coughing and sneezing. With the cold temperatures, the virus remained viable on surfaces for over eight hours.
Reynolds was on the phone with an associate at WHO when he collapsed in his hotel room on December 22. He was not quarantined for three days, infecting three nurses and a member of the hotel staff before it was realized that he was ill with a highly virulent and new strain of BECD. Reynolds died on January 1, 2039.
As the infection spread across both Europe and the United States with cases emerging quickly from other travel center hubs due to infections transmitted while Reynolds traveled, it was not thought to check the status of BECD in the initial bovine herds in Texas.
Reports of a changed in the original BECD infection of cattle changed in early January with a higher mortality rate. Dairy workers were quickly infected with the same epsilon strain Reynolds carried, passing the infection on to more people. By the time animals were tested, the epsilon strain of BECD was found in swine, birds, and cattle as far north as Nebraska and as far east as Tennessee. By January 12, WHO declared BECD epsilon strain a worldwide pandemic.
The oversights that allowed veterinarian Harvey Reynolds to head research on BECD, bovine enteric coronavirus disease, while ill with multi-specie infecting H7N7 and the lack of follow up for the epsilon mutation in bovine herds were the last mistakes of the pandemic of 2039.
Once WHO, the CDC, and all other infectious disease agencies caught up with the unfolding pandemic, the response rolled out in well rehearsed fashion. Quarantine zones were created. Travel halted. In cities that were the most impacted, businesses were closed and military personnel trained in quarantine procedures delivered food and water rations.
This is not to say there was not significant deaths.
At its total reach, an estimated sixty percent of the worldwide population became ill, which meant over 5 billion people became ill with BECD during 2039. Symptoms could take up to ten days after exposure, and death resulted in four to six days after initial symptoms. The average death rate reached thirty-five percent. However in areas with poor follow up care or where the disease caused panic and abandonment of those who were ill, death rates from secondary causes elevated total deaths to over fifty percent of those infected. Still some pockets of the world never saw a single case of BECD. Over 1.3 billion people died from BECD or secondary infections such as pneumonia during 2039. The total population loss on the planet was 15%.
In the northern hemisphere, 2039 was a terrifying winter followed by a deadly spring. The pandemic built quickly, remaining ahead of all efforts to control it until mid-February. Quarantine methods felt draconian and the closures of businesses impacted worldwide economy, creating an instant recession.
The enforcement of quarantines fell most often to the military. Panicked citizens raided stores for supplies, congregated to demand answers, or held ill advised vigils seeking salvation beyond a doctor’s care. Major cities fell under martial law in order to maintain necessary controls while those in the countryside felt the least impacts, though were often left to fend for themselves for food and water supplies.
By mid-April, new infection rates had fallen and in early May, there were signs the pandemic was ending. Attention turned toward the southern hemisphere, which was just entering its fall season. BECD occurred in Brazil, Peru, Africa, India, and Australia during their fall, but had been contained before spreading.
Fears for a new mutation during winter in the southern hemisphere altered policies and created stronger quarantine and travel restrictions. The measures helped. Though BECD did flare worldwide throughout 2039, by the end of July the new infection rate approached zero and quarantines were being lifted in many areas throughout the northern hemisphere.
The worst was over. At least with BECD.
Health and Emergency agencies congratulated themselves for a proven response to stemming BECD infection. The pandemic feared since the beginning of the twenty-first century had finally happened. The world had survived even if the population fell to 7.3 billion.
New policies on health and working with infected animals were initiated and many cities reviewed guidelines to tighten enforcement of quarantines and to strengthen punishments if broken. When the impact of secondary infections became clear, health officials strategized new ways to ensure the most vulnerable would not be left to die, especially from preventable causes.
By August of 2039, attention turned to restoring the economy, fueled by campaigns to embrace a zest for life and health.