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Sadly, I have to announce that I’m real-world on the money with respect to my book, Squatters. I hate being right!

My goal when writing a book is to deliver something that hasn’t been done before, a task that becomes harder each day, especially with the unrelenting pace of science in our modern world. I believe I’ve succeeded with Squatters; unfortunately I was rather closer to reality than I’d expected.

Here’s a little science:

schistosoma CDC center for disease control lifecycle

Schistosoma lifecycle from CDC website

In the book (sorry - a small spoiler alert here), a combination of the DNA from a simple bacterium and the parasitic organism, Schistosoma, a flatworm, produced a significantly more deadly and unstoppable infection that broke the standard parasitic cycle, commonly seen as:
Primary host (often farm animals)=>intermediate host (snail in this instance)=>secondary host (human)=>back to primary host (farm animals).

The new combination in the book was more deadly because it created more than one entry point into the human population. This means that the new parasitic cycle becomes:
Primary host=>intermediate host=>secondary host=>secondary host (now primary host), where the new primary host is mankind. There is no simpler way to describe this, for that I apologise.

I’m sorry to say that the concept I played with in the book has just been shown to have a real-life equivalent with the very same parasitic flatworm. Sorry because it has dreadful real world implications. On top of that, there is still no prophylaxis - either in the book or the real world. It’s unstoppable in the book and, without massive social changes to some of the poorest regions on Earth, it will continue to increase its grip on some 200 million people at the last count.

scistosoma bilharzia david k roberts squattersIn the real world, schistosomes are highly adaptable, cross-breeding between the five known varieties to enable multiple entry points into the human food chain - as per Squatters but with no bacteria.

Due to the increasing world population, Schistosomiasis, also known as bilharzia, is on the increase, spreading away from its traditional territories. All you eco-tourists out there are significantly more at risk of becoming infected. I’m not going to tell you the symptoms, I’d hate to scare you (joke - I love to scare you) but you have the potential - and power - to transmit the parasite to new areas. There’s a downside to everything.

Of course, all this is grist to the mill (no, I don’t know what that means either) for us authors. Give me ammunition for my next book - please!

If you’d like to know more, have a look at this CDC web page.

Copyright © 2018 David Kingsley Roberts

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