Interview with Ann Brooks from The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley
A year ago, Ann and Peter Brooks were just another unhappily married couple trying—and failing—to keep their relationship together while they raised two young daughters. Now the world around them is about to be shaken again, when Peter, a university researcher, comes to a startling realization: a virulent pandemic has made the terrible leap across the ocean to America’s heartland.
And it is killing fifty out of every hundred people it touches.
Food grows scarce. Neighbor turns against neighbor in grocery stores and at gas pumps. And then a winter storm strikes, and they are left huddling in the dark.
Trapped inside the house she once called home, Ann Brooks must make life-or-death decisions in an environment where opening a door to a neighbor could threaten all the things she holds dear.
Q: Thanks for talking with us today, Mrs. Brooks. I know it’s a crazy time for everyone.
Ann: Not at all. And please, call me Ann.
Q: Sure. The reason I was keen to touch base with you in particular is because you’re married to one of our foremost research scientists in the world of avian influenza, and I thought our readers would be interested in hearing your perspective.
Ann: I’m happy to share it. Avian influenza has been Peter’s passion for as long as I’ve known him. Every year, he goes out into the field to monitor the spread of virus among migratory birds. That’s where the virus first shows up, and by keeping tabs on how it’s doing among animals, we can have an early indication of what risks humans face.
Q: Because influenza starts in the avian population.
Ann: That’s my understanding.
Q: Sounds kind of risky, what your husband does.
Ann: He’s very careful. He wears gloves and knows how to handle the birds.
Q: But those birds might be infected with H5N1. That’s a very scary bug.
Ann: Yes, it is. But H5N1’s been around for a few years now and has stayed relatively contained. It hasn’t yet made the leap to spreading easily between people.
Ann: Excuse me?
Q: You said, yet.
Ann: Oh. I didn’t mean it. I guess it just comes from being around Peter for so many years.
Q: How’s that?
Ann: He’s always said that it’s not if we’ll have a pandemic, but when.
Q: Well, that’s been borne out by the recent influenza pandemic. Do you think that H5N1 will follow the same path as the H1N1 virus?
Ann: I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. Maybe the H1N1 pandemic will be the only pandemic we’ll see in this century.
Q: Nevertheless, scientists are still closely monitoring H5N1.
Ann: Yes, because viruses are unpredictable. They’re not a thinking species. They just are. So we don’t know if H5N1 will stay in its current form or suddenly mutate and spread more easily.
Q: Why are scientists so worried about whether or not H5N1 will do that?
Ann: Because its current mortality rate is fifty percent, which means that half of everyone who contracts the disease, dies. You’ d have to check with Peter, but I think that makes it the deadliest influenza virus mankind has ever known. Even the 1918 Great Influenza wasn’t as deadly: it had a mortality rate of twenty percent.
Q: Which makes H5N1 more than twice as deadly. Does that worry you?
Ann: Of course. It would be foolish not to be concerned. An H5N1 pandemic would be the worst thing to ever befall the human race. My mind can’t even comprehend that.
Q: Are you prepared?
Ann: Logistically, I am, to some degree. I’ve got a few things on hand. But emotionally and mentally, I don’t know how you can prepare for something like that.
Q: Did it alarm you when the World Health Organization raised the Pandemic Alert level from Phase Three to Phase Four?
Ann: Initially, yes. I know enough from Peter to understand that going to Phase Four means the virus has mutated and we can start seeing local outbreaks in the affected countries. But as you say, it’s been a month now without additional outbreaks, so maybe we’ve seen the worst of it. Maybe scientists have caught and contained it in time.
Q: Hmm. Do you think that we’ll move into Phase Five?
Ann: I really don’t know. I can’t possibly know. Even the experts can’t predict how the virus will behave. All they can do is monitor it, and all I can do is what everyone else is doing–watch the news, and hope it doesn’t mutate.
Q: Hope is a very thin foundation.
Ann: Yes, it is. But it’s all I have.
Carla Buckley is the debut author of The Things That Keep Us Here (Delacorte Press, February 2010.) Orion in the UK and Wunderlich in Germany pre-empted rights to The Things That Keep Us Here and Carla’s next book, which Delacorte will publish in 2011. Carla is the Chair of the International Thriller Writers Debut Program and currently lives in Ohio with her husband and children.