Get ready for the next virus: SPARS 2025

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Out of the John Hopkins University in the US comes a game-plan to help governments manage SPARS 2025, the next Coronavirus flu-like outbreak. Authors of the SPARS 2025 management plan, written to develop a strategy to manage the outbreak, say the university’s project team named this fictional pathogen as the St. Paul Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, or SPARS for short, because in the scenario it is first identified in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Two features of this disease are important to note because they impact how the storyline of the scenario plays out, as well as some of the communication dilemmas that occur. First, the project team decided to make SPARS have an extended incubation period (7 to 10 days) but a short latent period (4 to 5 days).

This, says the report, complicates the scenario because infected persons in the story are capable of spreading the virus for up to 6 days before showing symptoms of the disease themselves.

This feature of SPARS makes isolation procedures in the scenario, like urging people to stay home if they think they might be sick, less effective than what is typically expected for airborne pathogens and thus introduces novel dilemmas in the storyline.

Second, the project team decided to make the morbidity and mortality from SPARS both significantly higher in children than adults, and among pregnant women and those with chronic respiratory conditions. This parallels disease characteristics associated with past disease outbreaks, including the H1N1 pandemic.

In all, the SPARS scenario provides 19 specific storylines, and an associated 23 communication dilemmas for readers to consider.

The report, written in March 2020, assumes that in October 2025 the first death due to SPARS occurs, but it is thought by officials to be flu. In November 2025, cases of SPARS are reported across Minnesota and six other US States. In December 2025 it is decided that while no treatment or vaccine for SPARS exists, there is some evidence that the antiviral ‘Kalocivir’ could be effective as a therapeutic.

The 102-page document concludes that effective communication about medical countermeasures – including drugs, devices, and biologics (e.g., vaccines)—is often critical in emergency situations. Such communication, how-ever, does not just happen. It must be planned and prepared for.

Prospective scenarios, like the SPARS scenario described in this paper, offer important opportunities for communication planning and preparation by enabling readers, both individually and in discussion with others, to rehearse responses to communication dilemmas; encouraging readers to envision what the next gener-ation of best practices in Medical CounterMeasures (MCM) emergency communication may entail, given technological and social trends such as the growing influence of social media and increasing levels of social isolation; and prompting readers to consider and prepare for other future communication dilemma possibilities.

You can download the full SPARS scenario report here.

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