2
$\begingroup$

In my story, I have two late renaissance era cultures discovering each other for the first time and I plan for the story to develop into more of how they both understand each other. However, I don't want it to be a battle against disease spread so I need a reason for why there wouldn't be any transmitted disease like in how we brought disease to the New World.

I thought that the flu and other diseases could have developed in both cultures separately since they both have big cities with poor hygiene that would have been a hotbed for disease. Could such an explanation work?

an important fact I forgot to mention is that the two civilizations are two different species but they are descendants of the same animal.

$\endgroup$
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ You mentioned in a comment below that the different cultures are in fact different species as well. That has a massive bearing on the kinds of answers you're going to get, and you should update your question appropriately. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 10 '19 at 11:08
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Having a non-devastating disease that was problematic for one and less so for the other would be a fine platform from which to explore understanding. Grist for your narrative mill, so to speak. $\endgroup$ – Willk Dec 10 '19 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ I wonder whether native Americans would have had the smallpox problem they had were it not for settlers intentionally giving them infected blankets. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Dec 10 '19 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @WGroleau: There is only one documented case, and anyway it was too late, and it probably didn't work. (Because those Indians who were still alive at that time were the descendants of those who had resisted the great smallpox which had emptied the continent before the Europeans began to step up their colonization efforts.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 10 '19 at 17:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @WGroleau the vast majority of death in the new world occurred before the people who died ever came anywhere close to a European. Once the diseases were introduced, they rapidly spread through both continents, killing somewhere from 75% to 90% of native inhabitants. It's a truly unfathomable event and the worst part is that it was largely inevitable (although colonialism surely didn't help), even applying a modern understanding of germ theory wouldn't have changed much $\endgroup$ – llama Dec 10 '19 at 18:36
18
$\begingroup$

A low key third party vector.

Your civilizations don't know each other, but a few hundred years ago one of them had regular problems with nomadic barbarians arriving at their coasts. The other one has some records of a neighbor or trade partner having similar problems. That way pathogens could easily be transferred, but knowledge of what else goes on in the far reaches world would be scarce and apocryphal at best. Modify the chain as required by local circumstances.

The co-evolution you suggest would lead to similar acting but different afflictions. But parties would catch something their immune system has never seen before.

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the answer, couldn't the same flu develope in both nations? like didn't the red Indians ever get the flu or fever before colonist arrived? or couldn't the disease just travel all the way across and just land on a host? $\endgroup$ – Hasan Alsudani Dec 10 '19 at 5:14
  • $\begingroup$ @HasanAlsudani The point is the third party vector spreads them. There's no catastrophe at contact because there has been contact at the biological level for a long time. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Dec 10 '19 at 5:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @HasanAlsudani flu is highly mutable. We don't even get the same flu within the same season. The changes from one season to the next are even more evident. And when a research lab accidentally released a flu from the 60s (IIRC) the strain was pretty evident. I don't think you can expect the flu to be "the same" in two regions with no contact with each other, even if started with same disease at one point. $\endgroup$ – VLAZ Dec 10 '19 at 8:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @HasanAlsudani The third party doesn't have to be humans - many diseases can be spread by animals (in cases like this probably birds). That way you can have 'biological' contact between the two civilazations without them knowing. $\endgroup$ – Nicolai Dec 10 '19 at 11:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ A real life analogy to this would be cultures in Renaissance Europe and Ethiopia. The Europeans were vaguely aware that there might be Christians in different lands but they did not know any specifics and were surprised to meet Ethiopian pilgrims. But the two areas were connected by land and traders and so there were not serious diseases (e.g. measles) in one site than were not in the other. $\endgroup$ – Willk Dec 10 '19 at 16:01
12
$\begingroup$

Migrating birds and prevailing winds across the two continents can help diffuse viruses and bacteria, keeping the immune systems of the two population up to date with respect to the latest trends in diseases, at least those who can be carried by such means.

$\endgroup$
4
$\begingroup$

That explanation can't work. Simply put, diseases evolve differently from each other. (It's why everyone still catches the common cold - the disease that you get immunity to isn't the same one that develops somewhere else.) Having an explanation that both cultures originally were plague ridden and developed immunities to the plague means nothing. One culture's disease could have mutated, and thus work perfectly well against the second culture, so that explanation isn't available.

However, another explanation is available - cleanliness. If the two cultures are transporting things which are likely to be germ-ridden (i.e. used blankets), and they're complete neat freaks when they interact with each other, than it's very simple to explain that the diseases never meet.

In addition, it's quite possible that the cross-contamination of disease won't be that large of a problem. I did say that immunity is unlikely, but there are stages in between 'population-depleting plague' and 'no effect'. If they came from a common ancestor, and thus share similar diseases, since both cultures have bodies used to dealing with the diseases, than there might be nothing worse than a simple outbreak of fevers and colds when the two civilization discover each other, and Renaissance Era cultures more-or-less had problems like that anyway.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ thank you for the answer, the problem is that the two culters are in fact two separate human spices, they never had any contact for hundred of thousands of years so the first interaction could spill a simple disease that just destroys both of them $\endgroup$ – Hasan Alsudani Dec 10 '19 at 5:09
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @HasanAlsudani: If they are different species then the question is moot. We don't catch devastating diseases from our cats and dogs, and they don't catch them from us. Only very occasionally does a disease cross the species barrier. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 10 '19 at 10:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP we've caught some pretty horrendous plagues from our cattle, pigs and chickens though. HIV and ebola jumped the species barrier even without the need for long histories of domestication and farming of their reservoir species. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 10 '19 at 11:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime: That's why I said ir was a very occasional occurrence and not an impossibility. And we never caught any "horrendous plagues" from our cattle and pigs... We do sometimes catch tuberculosis from cattle, but that's far from a horrendous plague. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Dec 10 '19 at 11:07
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP measles and swine flu not a big deal? $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 10 '19 at 11:12
2
$\begingroup$

actually, depending on the biological setting ( do the people in your civilization are human-like ? ) and technological development of your civilization, the issue of the transmitted diseases may not be such an important one. Actually, in Jared Diamond's book ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns,_Germs,_and_Steel ) he argues that some of the most important diseases ( plague, some flues, etc...) may have arisen from the contact between humans and cattle at a high density. I am not a specialist in public health but this book is fairly sourced and I have some trust in this assumption.

Therefore, we could imagine a world where your civilization simply never developed an agricultural tradition of raising animals. They could be fishers, traditional vegetarians or even farmers that hunted for the little meat they consumed. Then, they would certainly still bear different germs, and may transmit them when the two civilizations meet. But those germs are way less likely to be the fierce killers that the Americas discovered when the europeans arrived.

Of course, this raises other issues, like the one of the source of power that would replace animal traction. But that all depends on the civilizations you are building.

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Before the advent of modern agriculture, farming animals is a great way to make use of marginal land which can't realistically be used for growing food crops given the technology available. Over a small scale, and given very fortunate environmental coincidences, you can form a large and complex civilisation without this sort of farming (see the first people in the pacific northwest for example) but it seems slightly less plausible that you'd have two such civilisations and that at least one developed enough for oceangoing colonisation and exploration... $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Dec 10 '19 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ thank you for your answer, they are both indeed human-like but aren't the same species they both have giant cities and agriculture that would definitely start a plague in their respective continent at some point. $\endgroup$ – Hasan Alsudani Dec 10 '19 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ The Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations all had large empires in the Americas without wide-scale animal husbandry. I don't think it's quite as required as it might seem. $\endgroup$ – user151841 Dec 10 '19 at 20:22
2
$\begingroup$

Both peoples are aware of the potential danger and take reasonable precautions.

Upon contact with the other civilization, the delegates/explorers, whatever are careful to avoid too much physical contact and frequently wash themselves. The hosts are careful to clean provided accommodations and to prepare food in clean conditions. Perhaps visitors avoid "less clean" sections of the host city. Over time, they develop gradual immunity, vaccinations, etc.

While all of this is a ton of work, your story doesn't have to focus on it. Narratively, you can work a few details in, and then just let it be understood that their measures have worked.

$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.