ATLANTA – A report released Thursday by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia brought a collective sigh of relief to medical workers around the nation.
"The crisis has passed," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC Director. "Royals Fever is no longer considered contagious."
It all started when scattered reports of the disease began trickling in around March, primarily in rural sections of Arizona. But it was not until the beginning of April, when a large outbreak of infections occurred in the Midwest, that medical researchers became alarmed.
"We were seeing huge numbers of cases, " said Doug McCabe, spokesman for the Kansas Department of State Health Services. "There would literally be 20,000 to 30,000 new infections occurring daily."
Officials were concerned most by a record 38,098 new cases reported on April 10. Said McCabe, "To put it in perspective, that’s about the size of a small-market sports stadium at capacity."
The disease had several stages of symptoms. In the initial stage, individuals suffered from delusions and mild euphoria. As the fever progressed, however, this gave way to a soul-crushing despair.
At certain points of their illness, individuals suffering from the disease would congregate in large groups for two to three hours at a time, more often than not wearing similar apparel. It was not unlike a leper colony, except that the afflicted actually chose to be there.
"Looking back, I’m actually kind of ashamed I spent my time doing that," said Bill McDougal, a Blue Springs, MO resident who has now recovered from the disease. "But when you've caught the fever, you find yourself doing all sorts of crazy stuff."
In total, over 900,000 U.S. cases of the disease had been confirmed through laboratory testing, though officials think the actual number of infections may have been much higher. Either way, this marked the largest outbreak of its type since 1985.
"It was really a perplexing disease, and didn’t follow normal patterns of infection," stated Steve Waterman, medical epidemiologist for the CDC. "Taking precautions like hand washing and avoiding those who were infected did little to curb the spread of the disease. Similarly, there were some who would be exposed to the disease repeatedly who seemed immune from infection, while some individuals would seemingly recover from the disease but would become infected again a few days later."
"This happened over and over again, usually every fifth day or so."
While the CDC and National Health Organization were taking precautions for a potential epidemic, officials at the World Health Organization seemed unconcerned. As one anonymous official there explained, this had to do with a naturally high resistance to Royals Fever in people living outside of North America. "We just simply aren’t affected by such trivialities," he said.
There seemed to be a tipping point around mid to late May, when the number of new cases dropped dramatically. Still, health officials remained vigilant. There was a fear that, as with the 1918 Flu Epidemic, the disease was going dormant due to the rise in temperatures, only to have a stronger, more lethal strain appear in September or October.
When asked if there was a chance at this point of the disease turning into a full-fledged epidemic, Waterman laughed. "No, it’s virtually impossible. Statistically speaking, the odds are at 0%.
"It has been mathematically eliminated," he continued.
"Still, like the common flu, this is a seasonal disease, so there’s sure to be a few new infections next year, but the odds of it going national are very minute." Waterman said.
"It’s looking more and more likely that it will never happen."