BUILDING A HERPES-PROOF FENCE AROUND AUSTRALIA
by Todd Hartley
You’ve heard of Australia, right? It’s that big island continent on the other side of the world made famous in the book and film “Rabbit-Proof Fence.” It’s the place where there’s an actual rabbit-proof fence running for thousands of miles across the western part of the country. That place. Australia wants to give herpes to fish.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Australians with cold sores and genital warts are supposed to make out with fish or have sex with fish or anything like that. That would be wrong, and it would be way too funny to ever actually happen, though we can dream.
No, what I mean is that scientists in the Murray-Darling Basin, a watershed that encompasses Australia’s most important agricultural region, want to introduce a strain of herpesvirus into the water to kill carp, an invasive species that currently makes up roughly 80 to 90 percent of the fish biomass in the basin.
The carp, which are prolific breeders and a threat to native species, have so far proven hard to eradicate, but a virus that first appeared in 1998, cyprinid herpesvirus 3, is very contagious to common carp and often fatal within 24 to 48 hours. If it were to be introduced — a move the government is calling “Carpageddon” — the virus could potentially kill around 95 percent of the carp in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? What could possibly go wrong other than suddenly having millions of tons of dead carp to clean up and dispose of?
Well, let’s see. This is Australia we’re talking about, so perhaps we could glean some insight from that nation’s track record with other introduced species. Two dozen rabbits were introduced for hunting in 1857; now there are 200 million. Poisonous cane toads were introduced as a way to control beetles in 1935; now there are 200 million of them, too.
Oh, and then there are the carp themselves. They were first introduced to Australia’s waterways in 1859, but their numbers really exploded after an adapted fish-farming strain of carp was accidentally released into the wild in the 1960s. Now they’re a huge problem that costs the Australian economy, by at least one estimate, as much as $374 million a year.
So what am I saying? Am I implying that somehow, by introducing the virus, Australia could end up killing every fish in its rivers except the carp? No, not at all. What I’m saying is that if you introduce something to Australia, you’re going to end up with 200 million of it. Therefore, if most of the carp are dead, that just means that 200 million viruses are going to need to find different hosts.
The best-case scenario, should that happen, would be if the viruses jumped species to infect and kill rabbits and cane toads. That would be a win-win situation, which is why, much like the fish-kissing, it is virtually guaranteed not to happen.
The worst-case scenario — the one Murphy tells us is a certainty — would be if the virus jumps species to infect humans. This, I think, is a distinct possibility, because if Australians are anywhere near as dumb as Americans, some of them are bound to think they really can help the cause by making out with a carp when they have a cold sore. The viruses will have open wounds to get inside their bodies, and while it won’t be enough to kill the people, it will give them scales on their faces and permanent fish lips.
Now, Australia’s population is only about 23 million people. That means everyone in the country could get cyprinid herpesvirus 3 about 10 times. Before you know it, everyone in Australia is going to have gills and dorsal fins, and they’re going to smell if you leave them out in the sun for too long. At that point, the world is going to have to build a herpes-proof fence around Australia to keep the virus hemmed in.
It won’t work, of course. Despite our best efforts, inevitably the virus will escape and infect the rest of the world, and one day we’ll all be forced to live underwater.
We have to try, though. We need to do what we can to keep the virus contained. We may all be doomed eventually, but we can delay the true Carpageddon if we can just get that herpes-proof fence built along Australia’s shores right away.
Thank God we’ll have President Trump to force Mexico to build it for us.
Todd Hartley doesn’t have the virus; he can just breathe underwater naturally.