Some of you are maybe old enough to remember this little bit of history:
As Ali S. Khan, a former head of the agency that oversees the stockpile, points out to TIME, it was a novel about a virus that, two decades ago, helped guide President Bill Clinton’s thinking about how prepared the U.S. was, in real life, for an infectious disease outbreak. The result of that thinking was the Strategic National Stockpile.
In the novel — Richard Preston’s The Cobra Event, published Oct. 21, 1997 — a 29-year-old Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pathologist hunts for the cause of a virus, nicknamed Cobra, that was manufactured by a mad scientist-cum-terrorist and is spreading throughout New York City. Victims first come down with common cold symptoms that morph into a “brainpox” in which “otherwise decorous human beings to gobble their bottom lips, bite off their own fingers, and in extreme cases to ‘enucleate’ themselves (remove one’s own eyeball) spontaneously,” per the New York Times review back then.
Preston’s 1994 nonfiction book The Hot Zone, and the 1995 Dustin Hoffman movie it inspired, Outbreak, had already raised public awareness of Ebola. Now, Preston was doing the same for bioterrorism. While the plausibility of a virus like Cobra existing was swiftly debunked, fears about national emergency preparedness were very real.
I remember reading that novel. It was where I first learned about the disease Lesh-Nyhan Syndrome:
The Cobra virus in the novel basically turned people into zombies, giving them a form of that syndrome, as I recall. It's an even more ugly disease than that very anodyne wiki article makes it out to be. Here is what it looks like:
Anyways, when Bill Clinton read that novel, he was reportedly so terrified that, as that Time article reports, he asked scientific advisers (and federal authorities) to investigate whether it could actually happen. So, in addition to George W. Bush, Clinton yet another president who took pandemics very seriously, and got the ball rolling to protect the country, in the event a very nasty one should occur.