Doctors have found a way to identify the initial strain of this lethal, engineered virus. Most mutations have been easily identifiable by an AI-supported system.

Is it plausible that a mutated strain of such a virus could evade detection the first time the system is exposed (i.e. the first time someone infected with this mutation was scanned and tested).

Ideally, I'd like the virus itself to mimic something else in the extracellular fluid or debris, but I am way out of my league in trying to determine what that could be. I've found some ways that viruses disguise themselves from the body's defenses, but not much in the way of evading detection and testing.

If that is completely implausible, I may have to resort to a bug within the AI detection system.

I'm open to other suggestions as well!

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    $\begingroup$ How does this machine identify the strain of a virus? The question can't really be answered until we know that. Is it some kind of a magnetic resonance scanner that can work on living tissue, is this an isolated virus that's fed into a crystallography machine, is the genetic material isolated and then analyzed using traditional DNA analysis techniques, what kind of 'AI-supported system' is this? $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jan 13 '20 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ My story takes place in the near future (indeterminate date), so I'm leaning towards AI-guided nucleic acid based methods. This would allow for know mutations as well as probable mutations to be identified. I'd prefer for this to be based on currently available technologies but can stretch within reason. $\endgroup$ – CaseyKincade Jan 13 '20 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to ask that as a question on this site, a question of 'What would be an effective method of checking a virus?' if you don't have one in mind right now. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jan 13 '20 at 22:57

If you don't mind the mutation being engineered rather than natural, consider dividing the recognizable infectious viral material into multiple less-recognizable components and a non-infectious, non-lethal virus which is programmed to reassemble the infectious virus within the host at some predetermined future time.

That way, your AI diagnostic systems might find a few proteins suggesting that the currently healthy host somehow escaped a full infection, but would not find anything lethal or dangerous actively living within them. The AI might even notice the assembler virus and incubate a sample to see if it grows into something lethal. Then a few days later, when the sample has failed to multiply at all, the AI could pass the host as healthy and release him into the general public.

Only then, perhaps triggered by exposure to sunlight or after ingesting a specific luxury food (which would not be available while in quarantine), the assembler virus would activate and reassemble the contagious, lethal strain within its host, kick starting the new plague.

  • $\begingroup$ Love this suggestion! Is this something that could plausibly happen? Would it be possible to for this to naturally occur (after 25 years of mutations and treatments)? $\endgroup$ – CaseyKincade Jan 13 '20 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ In other words, two viruses - the engineered virus, and second virus to alter the engineered virus? $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed Jan 13 '20 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @CaseyKincade, I seriously doubt that an assembler virus could naturally occur. Viruses have been active on earth for billions of years and to my knowledge, nothing like what I have described has ever existed. I can see something like an assembler virus being realized initially as an attempt to cross the blood/brain barrier, perhaps it started as a medical delivery mechanism before some evil genius modified it to a more sinister purpose. So not natural and probably not plausible with today's technology. But not impossible in the near future if bioscience continues along its current path. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jan 13 '20 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Halfthawed, yes. Two viruses. The engineered virus which gets released against the populace with initial devastating effects. Then a second engineered virus, possibly part of the tools which were used to create the first virus, which allows the first virus to be transported in an inert and undetectable form, then reassembled and released after its host is granted access to the survivors. Rather than say that the second virus alters the first, I would say that it assembles the first from nonthreatening components which are inserted into the host at the same time as is the second virus. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jan 13 '20 at 23:11

Wolf in sheep's clothing: composite virus

When two (or more) viruses infect the same cell, it can give rise to composite viruses.

How the New Bird Flu Virus Evolved

"When an organism is infected with more than one flu virus, it's a wild free-for-all, in terms of which chromosomes will combine" into a single new virus, said Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., who was not involved in the report

Your engineered virus infects a cell where there is another virus in residence. Maybe a virus in the same family as your engineered virus - or possibly your engineered virus infects an animal, which does not get very sick and is a carrier of its own animal virus.

The resulting hybrid virus has some of the nastier aspects of its engineered parent. But other aspects are from the wild virus parent. The method of detection looks for characteristics (proteins, probably) which have been lost in the hybrid. The hybrid looks like its banal wild parent.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of a lethal form of this virus being disguised as something more innocuous. I can easily build that into the plot. $\endgroup$ – CaseyKincade Jan 14 '20 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ This is also how the virus might escape control of its designers - the failsafes they built in are lost when it combines with a wild virus. $\endgroup$ – Willk Jan 14 '20 at 14:51

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