We're in the United States, sometime in the next few years. Through a series of circumstances, a viral outbreak occurs in the country. For the sake of detail, this is how it happens:

  • A scientific organization has a research outpost somewhere with thick ice sheets: say Greenland or Antarctica
  • Scientists there discover a buried fossil in the permafrost (could be anything, and in any way - maybe they drilled into the ice for research or maybe the ice just melted there because of global warming)
  • This ancient fossil harbored an ancient virus - This actually exists

  • The above virus was found to be around 30k years old, but for the purposes of our setting, let's say the one found by the scientists is older - millions of years old. I don't think this is too much of a leap

  • The virus infects the first scientist - patient zero - unknowingly. This virus will be airborne, extremely contagious and with a long incubation period (6 months to a year). No symptoms for the time being
  • After the research project is complete, the scientist goes home - let's say he lives in NYC but is of Chinese origin and has family in Beijing
  • He's already infected almost everyone in his outpost (let's say a very small % of people are immune)
  • The flight back to the US has a stop in, let's say Argentina. He infects more people there, who eventually will go on to big cities like Buenos Aires, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro
  • He arrives in NYC, at JFK airport, and infects even more people there. From here, the spread across the country should be straightforward as JFK is one of the biggest hubs in the US
  • a few months later, the virus has finished incubating and the first symptoms start showing up and they're very similar to the common cold. it just so happens that it's late fall - flu season is in full effect and these symptoms are pretty much expected in most people
  • And then people slowly start dying, starting with the first infected and the death toll is already in the tens of thousands before anyone can even react
  • More and more people start dying by the day. This is happening in South America as well, and in Asia - our patient zero took a little trip to China to see family after his return from his project
  • Quarantines are formed and the military captures infected people to study them. They find the virus but can't make any heads or tails of it as they have never seen anything like this before

At this point, how would the government in the US deal with this contagion, if thousands are dying by the day and there doesn't seem to be a cure in sight and the virus is absolutely nothing like anything that has been seen before?

  • $\begingroup$ Take a look at some of the responses to the Spanish Flu $\endgroup$
    – StarHawk
    Oct 21, 2019 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ How would such a virus exist in such a remote place? Viruses can typically only infect one or a small group of species, and evolve to infect those living in an area. If humans are rare somewhere, they won't evolve to infect humans, especially if it is millions of years old. It just wouldn't have the surface proteins needed to enter our cells. Even if it did infect us, it probably would not be that good at doing it, and would not be super lethal or infectious. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2019 at 23:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It should possibly be noted that viruses rarely tend to be both highly contagious as well as lethal. The part of the population that can be infected will simply die off, leaving the virus with no further hosts and then die off itself. (This is a tendency, not a hard fact, but still relevant) $\endgroup$ Oct 22, 2019 at 8:17
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    $\begingroup$ Well... I think we have our answer now. $\endgroup$ Dec 5, 2020 at 23:25

2 Answers 2


The solution is locking down the country to prevent further spread.

Almost everybody is required to stay home. Firefighters and other emergency workers can sleep in dorms near where they work. That will include the newly formed food distribution corps, which prepare and deliver canned food to houses, along with sanitizing products. Canning does destroy most viruses and bacteria.

Since virus is identified, it can be tested for. This can let us create gated compounds that are virus-free.

Then you identify the people who are immune -- they have virus in their blood but no symptoms, or have survived the virus. Their blood can be used to prepare a cure or vaccine (they did that with Ebola).

This all assumes social order does not break down. Which is hard but not impossible to achieve. You will need some very strong and charismatic leadership.


It should come as no surprise that the US alreasy has a National Pandemic Strategy

There is a 17-page PDF outlining the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, and a 223-page Implementation Plan.

While what you describe is different from a flu, I suspect that the strategy would basically be unchanged - especially since there would be little time to formulate a different, detailed strategy.


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