Epidemics can take many forms. Sometimes, they can be quite serious, like when all of your friends suddenly start posting their 2048 scores on Facebook, or transforming themselves into Bitstrips. You have to step back and wait for the symptoms to die down before you can expect the usual updates about food and the antics of children.
There are, of course, real outbreaks that have changed the course of history. The Black Death backpacked across Europe for about 200 years, killing 30–60% of Europe’s population, and reducing the world population from an estimated 450 million down to 350–375 million. Smallpox ravaged America after Europeans ran amok across the continents, killing entire tribes in New England and decimating the Aztec civilization. Cholera, Influenza, Typhus, polio, AIDs, swine flu, bird flu, SARS, Ebola, dengue fever—the list goes ever on.
As with all terrifying things, humans have taken these experiences and turned them into stories, trying to make sense of illness, and figure out what our reactions to plague say about us as a species. The real diseases have informed plenty of fiction throughout the centuries, inspiring classic works like The Decameron and, well, less classic works like Outbreak. While it’s hard to talk about favorite diseases, I’ve tried to pick out some of the greatest fictional outbreaks, fake diseases that provide a unique way to comment on society and human nature.