One Trek Mind #37: Sick In Space
When Captain Kirk famously declared “risk is our business” in “Return to Tomorrow” he further encouraged a nation of young scientists to continue their pursuit of the stars. His courage was noble, but it wouldn't have harmed him to add “if you're coming, bring a jacket – you may catch something!”
Star Trek shows how the Galaxy is loaded with adventure and intellectual stimulus, but there are also loads of new ways to get sick. Luckily Starfleet has more than its share of great doctors (as we've discussed before: HERE) but that doesn't mean there's no room for preventive care. Below are the ten most notable conditions you may wish to avoid. Should you experience any symptoms, contact someone in a blue tunic immediately.
10 – Zanthi Fever
Sometimes a Betazoid's empathic abilities can get out of hand. Should you find yourself stricken with Zanthi Fever, well, you'll continue to feel fine, but you may notice some of the people around you acting odd.
If you have strong emotions about something or someone, they will, essentially, leak out and influence those around you. In the DS9 episode “Fascination,” Lwaxana Troi's crush on Odo caused other members of the station to have their feelings for colleagues stirred up in unprofessional (and hilarious) ways.
Zanthi Fever only affects older Betazoids, but try telling someone like Lwaxana Troi that she's a senior citizen.
9 – Phyrox Plague
While not much is known specifically about the Phyrox Plague, one thing we do know is that if YOU know about it, we know you aren't who you say you are. Let me explain:
The Phyrox Plague was eradicated from Cor Caroli V by Dr. Crusher and the Enterprise's scientists. It was accomplished “in between” episodes of the show. That's how awesome the Enterprise is – it can conquer a plague and aid a population without even bothering to show people.
Starfleet, however, kept details of the operation classified. This was a key factor in the episode “Allegiance,” when Captain Picard was transported down to a observation room/prison (and a gregarious clone was sent up to the Enterprise to drink ale with everyone in Ten-Forward.) When Picard trips up an alien posing as cadet by admitting knowledge of the disease, that's when he's able to make his move.
8 – Chromovirus
It is a little unclear just how many chromoviruses affect the Dinaal people, but the Voyager episode “Critical Care” proves that a little compassion could save a lot more of them than the Jye administrator of their hospital ship is allowing.
One of the more blatant political episodes in all of Star Trek (and still relevant today!) the Doctor brings universal healthcare to a class conscious culture by infecting a bean counter with the disease that is killing the poor. A quick shot of cytoglobin, which the wealthy use for frivolous reasons, can also cure someone with a lower “treatment coefficient” of a life-threatening chromovirus. Oh, if only there were an EMH in every hospital.
7 – Bendii Syndrome
Oh, noble Sarek, your life did not end well.
What could possibly be a more disgraceful condition to a Vulcan than the inability to contain one's emotions? (Then again, logic would dictate that, if the behavior is caused by an outside force like a disease, surely the individual is not to blame. And do Vulcans even feel shame? I have to look into that.)
At the age of 201 Sarek fell ill with Bendii Syndrome, which doesn't just eat away at your physical strength, but at your logic as well. As such, he was given to fits of brutal emotion and, dangerously, telepathic projections that could have deleterious effects on weak-minded individuals (like humans.)
Nevertheless, a mind-meld with Picard in the episode “Sarek,” before his demise in “Unification” proved worth the risk.
6 – Psi-2000 Polywater Intoxication
Considering that crews of the Enterprise have suffered from this twice you'd think there'd be a catchier name for it by now!
Polywater molecules under severe gravimetric stress, like the breakup of the planet Psi-2000, will accrue a strange property that, when entered into the blood stream, becomes an intoxicating agent. Not “whoops, I had too many glasses of Chardonnay” intoxicated, but severe “I just slept with an android and now I'm going to take over the ship” intoxicated.
First seen in “The Naked Time,” which brought swashbuckling Sulu into the world, then later on TNG's “The Naked Now,” both of these episodes are often referred to by non-fans as “the ones where everyone gets drunk.”
5 – Teplan Blight
Few episodes showed just how brutal the Dominion could be more than “The Quickening.”
When the Teplan people resisted the Founders, the Jem'Hadar introduced a virus tailor-made for Teplan physiology. Horrible lesions would appear during the final stage, and, even worse, it would accelerated and grow more painful as it was subjected to modern medical practices (something Dr. Bashir learned firsthand, to his eternal regret.)
Bashir was unable to cure the Teplan Blight, but he was able to prevent it from being passed on to future generations. Later, in one of DS9's darker chapters, it is implied that the Tal Shiar and maybe even Section 31 are curious about investigating similar targeted biological weapons.
4 – Pa'nar Syndrome
Enterprise challenged longtime Star Trek fans in a number of ways, but perhaps its treatment of Vulcans was the biggest surprise. Was there really a time where Vulcans were such. . .jerks?
Turns out only a century before the events of TOS, Vulcan mind-melds were illegal. And not just illegal, but dangerous.
With melding verboten, those doing it were untrained and potentially harming the synaptic pathways of their partners. T'Pol's meld with Tolaris in “Fusion” resulted in such a condition, one that she kept secret from Captain Archer and the others for years. Later, with the help of T'Pau, she was cured, as prejudices concerning those who were afflicted began to ease.
3- The Phage
When you get out to the Delta Quadrant, the diseases just get grosser.
The Phage is one to keep you up at nights: a horribly painful affair the literally eats at your internal organs and skin. The Vidiians have been cursed with the Phage for centuries, and survive only by the constant kidnapping and harvesting of body parts from those that foolishly (or inadvertently) get too close.
While the Phage turned the Vidiians into pirating monsters, it is later revealed that their troubles were quickly wiped away by Jason Alexander – yes, that Jason Alexander – and his cohorts in the episode “Think Tank”
2 – Barclay's Protomorphic Syndrome
Leave it to Lt. Barclay to take a relatively simple sickness like Urodelan Flu and, after a shot of synthetic T-cells, let a quirk in his genetics invent a terrifying plague.
This highly contagious disease actually caused victims to devolve into their proto-selves. Gross for some (Lt. Troi is a big, sloppy mermaid!) but unspeakable for others (we don't quite know how to describe what happens to Worf.) TNG's “Genesis” is the episode that was most like a traditional horror film – and it is fantastic.
1 – Klingon Augment Virus
The best side effect of this disease is that it shut non-fans up. “Why do the old Klingons look different from the new Klingons?” they constantly whine. What they're looking to do is point out inconsistency, or at least get us to admit to low budgets, but now we have the answer!
The smooth-forehead Klingons were just a temporary thing – survivors of a genetic experiment that got out of hand. Thinking of Earth's Eugenics War as just a false start, Klingon scientist Antaak decided to give chromosomal tinkering a try in an effort to create a master warrior.
There were complications, and an outbreak of smooth foreheads was only the least of their troubles. Indeed, in time, most of the ridges grew back.
Now, somebody tell me if it's hot in here or if it's just me? I'm not feeling quite right. But if I left off one of your favorite space sicknesses (there are so many others) let me know in the comments below.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at UGO.com for more than four years. He has produced two independent films (look 'em up!) and is a member of the New York Film Critics Online. In 2005, he was named the Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast by IFC. Jordan fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy.