'Away' Imagines What an Infectious Disease Outbreak Might Look Like in Space

Josh St. Clair
·3 mins read
Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

From Men's Health

Warning: this story contains spoilers for Season 1 of Away

Episode 4 of Netflix’s space drama Away finds crew member Ram Arya (played by English actor Ray Panthaki) deliriously endangering the crew, coughing and bleeding all over the place, requiring the crew to break into his room and literally staple a wound on his back shut. The scene—which is basically Grey’s Anatomy meets The Martian—is one of the more needlessly dramatic and confounding moments of the series. It also raises several questions about disease, decision making, and personal grooming—somehow, after apparently weeks spent in bed suffering from illness, Panthaki’s beard remains immaculate.

Ram is the mission second-in-command behind Emma Green (Hilary Swank). He’s also the mission’s medical officer, which makes his delirium and injury all the more consequential.

What does Ram have?

During the episode, he’s diagnosed with Infectious Mononucleosis (Mono), the symptoms of which do in fact include hallucinations—sometime called “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.” So Ram stumbling around like a zombie calling out for his brother is totally possible. (Meaning the illness is a perfect vehicle for dramatic flashbacks.)

Of course, the only way to really cure Ram is to let the mono run its course, which could take 2-4 weeks if not longer—during which Ram could continue to be contagious.

Infectious disease in space isn’t a totally fictional concept. There have been cold outbreaks on previous NASA flights, though the agency now implements a preflight quarantine for astronauts. Still, space can weaken an astronaut’s immune system, making infectious diseases more easily transmittable in low gravity environments. NASA has also found that “dormant viruses” can reawaken in people who spend time in space. It’s not unlikely that Ram, having had mono before, could see a repeat after prolonged space exposure.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Does Ram die?

Ram could have remained contagious for months after his symptoms disappeared, though the series seems to fast forward some months after episode 4; we assume crew members just kept their distance. He recovered like he would on earth; we're told the crew cabins have earth-simulated gravity, which may have helped Ram's immune system recover after microgravity exposure.

Photo credit: Men's Health
Photo credit: Men's Health

As for the laceration incident that left Ram bleeding, we see his staples replaced by actual stitching. The reason why the crew was hesitant to enter the bloody room was not just the threat of airborne contagion. Mono can be spread through blood contact as well.

Could Ram have died? Though complications of mono can be fatal, mortality rate is extremely high. The virus which causes mono is common. Around 90 percent of Americans contract the virus before the age of 35.

As far as we can tell from the last episode of Away, Ram is still alive. His hormones, though, have complicated the mission in more ways than one.

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