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The Red Flu is the name set for the disease outbreak that has devastated the world in The Last Ship and is the main story driver of the series. It is extremely contagious and is lethal to most patients who came into contact with the virus, excluding a small percentage of people who are naturally immune to the disease.

Background[]

The Red Flu is caused by an ancient strain of virus that was buried for millions of years under the thick, permanent ice of the Arctic. In the 21st century, due to the effects of global warming, the virus escaped its confinement in silence, and due to its airborne property, quickly spread into the atmosphere and the water. Its progress was also boosted considerably by its consumption by birds, specifically the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). The virus then jumped, likely from the birds' feces, to a mammal before mutating and infecting humans. Dogs are immune to the virus and while other animals can contract the disease, they can't transmit it to humans.

The virus does not prove to have the potential to create a pandemic yet, until it is mutated artificially by Norwegian virologist Niels Sørenson who injects himself with the virus and then tries to create a cure using his unique gene-splicing method. He then proceeds to make a fatal mistake by adding the human's gene into the virus, unleashing the virus' deadly nature. Due to his contact with the primordial strain of the virus, Niels was immune to the deadly properties of the now mutated strain, but instead of being sterile of the virus, the virus lives neutrally within his body and he became a human carrier of the virus and can spread the virus effectively through his respiratory system, in which, later on was discovered contain the largest concentration of the virus within his body. This in turn, made him the Red Flu's patient zero.

Before the outbreak, the virus was spread by his wife who was infected as he kissed her good-bye before she went on a trip to reach various parts of the world that included the U.K., Germany and Italy, spreading the disease further on a global scale. The virus made itself known to the world through a pocket of infection in Giza, Egypt though this was a different less virulent strain than the one that Niels spread. Several other cases have also been reported across Africa and Asia.

In Egypt, Dr. Rachel Scott has came into contact with several infected patients and took their blood examples for her pursuit of the cure, of which she soon discovered that the main key to the cure for the disease lies in the original primordial strain in the Arctic. Realizing the severeness of the disease, the United States's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C) and the United Nations' World Health Organization (W.H.O) orchestrated a plan to send a United States' Navy Arleigh Burke-class Guided Missile Destroyer bearing the name of U.S.S. Nathan James and hull-number of 151 to escort Dr. Scott and Dr. Tophet to the Arctic for her to retrieve the test subjects required while also acting as her sea-borne laboratory for researching and initial production of the cure.

The disease at this period of time has wiped out 80% of Earth's population. Over 5 billion people were killed by the virus worldwide.

After the discovery of an immune survivor named Bertrise, Rachel was successfully able to create both a vaccine and a cure for the virus and began efforts to spread it. After capturing Niels and stripping him of his immunity, leading to his death, Rachel figured out how to create a "contagious cure," spread simply through contact like the virus itself. Through use of this contagious cure, the Red Flu pandemic was stopped and the virus was effectively eradicated.

A few years after the end of the pandemic, the virus mutated once more to become the Red Rust, infecting Earth's plant life and biosphere instead of its human population.

Signs and Symptoms[]

The disease is described as being extremely contagious and lethal to most who are exposed.

It is also described as having a mix elements of Influenza and hemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola and Hanta.

Early symptoms of the disease including:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Exhaustion

As the sickness progresses, usually within a matter of days, lesions appear on the patient's skin. Rapidly after that would be delirium, hemorrhaging, organ failure, and death.

Events of The Last Ship[]

Early History[]

The Red Flu is caused by an ancient strain of virus that is buried for millions of years under the thick, permanent ice of the Arctic. In the 21st century, due to the effects of global warming, the virus escaped its confinement in silence, and due to its airborne property, quickly spread into the atmosphere and the water. Its progress was also boosted considerably by its consumption by birds, specifically the Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea). The virus then jumped, likely from the birds' feces, to a mammal before mutating and infecting humans.

The virus first appears in humans in Giza, Egypt where it is monitored by Dr. Rachel Scott who becomes concerned that the virus has the potential to become an apocalyptic global pandemic, particularly as with its prehistoric nature, mankind has no defenses against it. Rachel predicts that the virus will spread across the globe within two years, creating an unimaginable pandemic and determines that it likely originated in the Arctic permafrost before being released by global warming. Eventually, as Rachel predicted, the virus begins to mutate and move beyond Giza, breaking the quarantine established there and surfacing in Malaysia, moving on to Phase 2. Rachel pushes for a mission to the Arctic Circle to find the virus' Primordial Strain, convinced that it holds the key to creating a vaccine, but her theory is dismissed by her benefactors. Eventually, Rachel gets the United States government to agree to send her and Dr. Quincy Tophet to the Arctic on the USS Nathan James.

With the virus spreading beyond the Middle East, Norwegian scientist Dr. Niels Sørenson becomes convinced that the best chance of treating it is to add a human gene that will allow the body to better identify the virus and create antibodies. Niels modifies the Egyptian Strain in this way and injects it back into himself and as he is left completely healthy, Niels becomes convinced that his experiment worked. However, this instead has the unintended side effect of allowing the virus to mutate into a much deadlier strain with the ability to replicate unchecked while Niels becomes an asymptomatic carrier of the new strain. Shortly after arguing with Professor Jonas Lindblom about his experiment, Niels inadvertently infects his fiancé Maja before she leaves on an international trip with stops in London, Frankfurt and Rome. As a result, the virus spreads around the globe, becoming a devastating global pandemic much earlier than Rachel had predicted and infecting 80% of the world's population within the four months after the departure of the Nathan James to seek out the Primordial Strain.

Season 1[]

Season 2[]

Season 3[]

Season 4[]

During season 4, the Red Flu has mutated into the Red Rust which is destroying crops and causing worldwide famines.

Known Strains[]

The virus is known to have many strains as it mutates several times, though most are unidentified.

  • Primordial Strain - The original strain found in the Arctic permafrost that was released by global warming melting the permafrost.
  • Egyptian Strain - A mutated version of the original strain that infected Egypt and the Middle East though less deadly than the final strain. It is known to have had over a million casualties before it mutated again due to Niels Sørenson.
  • Human Gene Strain - The deadliest strain of the virus, created when Niels Sørenson spliced a human gene into the Egyptian Strain and injected it back into his own body. Due to the human gene, it is highly adaptable and was able to spread unchecked. However, it is also stated to be the most stable strain as its unchecked replication prevents a need for it to mutate again. This strain of the virus killed billions of people in a matter of months.
  • Red Rust - A mutated strain that emerged and infected plant life and the Earth's biosphere years after the virus was thought beaten. The famines and other indirect effects caused by this strain killed millions of people.
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