The Flare (virus VC321xb47) is a man-made disease created by the Post-Flares Coalition. It is a virus that slowly eats away the brain, eventually turning its victims into bloodthirsty and irrational humans who consider killing, torture, and cannibalism everyday objectives. It is known to mutate rapidly. People who have the Flare are commonly called Cranks. Every large remaining city in the world has a special holding place for Cranks known as a Crank Palace.
After the Sun Flares, the Post-Flares Coalition had conducted a six-month survey and came to conclude that only 70 percent of the remaining population would have enough resources for living. Fearing war and civil unrest, the Coalition searched for a means of population control that would eliminate large numbers of people quickly and as humanely as possible. The Flare was discovered by Katie McVoy, a scientist of the Post-Flares Coalition after she researched the biological weapons that AMRIID had in containment. McVoy believed that the disease worked quickly and painlessly to shut down the brain of its victim and that the infection rate would slowly weaken as the virus spreads to different hosts, eventually stopping altogether. However, after Chancellor John Michael approved the systematic release of the disease in various heavily-populated cities across the globe, its true effects soon became apparent.
The Flare was unstable and has mutated, resulting in turning anyone who was in contact with the virus into cannibalistic, savage beings. The mutation has rapidly increased the mortality rate of uninfected humans. Because the virus is airborne, the infection rate was reaching at global levels. The virus had spread throughout the globe, affecting city safe areas, and infecting the majority of the population. The rate of infection was sky-rocketing, so that quarantining the infection was impossible for the Coalition to handle.
As a result of the outbreak, WICKED was formed to find a cure for the dangerous disease. A small percentage of the population, most under the age of twenty, were labeled as Immunes, people who were not affected by the Flare. WICKED attempted to examine the Immunes to find a cure by looking at how their brains reacted to certain situations, as well as the physical makeup of the Final Candidate's brain. Immunes are very rare, comprising less than one percent of the Earth's population, and as such, they were given the nickname "Munies" by those not immune out of spite and envy.
The earliest stage of the Flare will often have infected individuals feel "off" somehow, exhibiting symptoms such as sudden mood swings, paranoia, poor balance, headaches that get worse as time goes on, irrational anger, and aggression. These symptoms last for approximately two to four months, but if individuals infected with the Flare is in constant stress, it can rapidly increase the infection rate of the brain.
These symptoms gradually worsen as the virus rapidly infects the cerebral cortex, resulting in suffering from dementia, temporarily memory-loss, and Alzheimers-like symptoms. The rapid decaying of the brain causes psychotic mental disorders to appear from the infected, stripping the victim of their humanity, and turning them into a demented, cannibalistic, zombie-like lunatic.
If an infected individual has gotten to the point where sanity is completely lost, they are referred to as being past a stage known as "The Gone". Those who are past the Gone often have horrifying injuries, presumably gained through fights with other Cranks or self-injury. An example is a Crank in The Scorch Trials that is bereft of his nose.
An extremely active brain, often triggered by stress, will quicken the rate at which the virus does its damage. Due to this, a treatment known as the Bliss was created to sedate a person's senses and neural activity. However, the drug is only affordable by the extremely wealthy, due to its high price, and simply delays the inevitable, thus not making it a cure. The Bliss slows the brain's activity, making a person seem more relaxed in various situations. It is quite easy to tell if a person has been taking the drug.
In the Scorch Trials film, the symptoms differ from the novels. The earliest stage of the Flare starts with swelling blood vessels and angiitis-like symptoms. The infection gradually worsens with necrosis of the infected skin area. If an individual is infected but retains most of its intelligence, some will have strange vine-like bones protruding from their bodies which is the result of mutation growing from the virus.
The Scorch Trials film portrays Cranks, victims of the Flare, as black-veined, long-armed zombie-like creatures. Strange vine-like growths protrude from their bodies, and in that film, they do not seem to be capable of speech. However, in the Death Cure film, they do speak. However, unlike in the novels, Cranks seem to able to transmit the Flare to others (possibly Immunes, even) via forms of physical contact, such as scratches.
99 percent of global human population fell victim to the virus. This includes following characters from the series:
- Winston (movie)
- Group B members
- Thomas' parents
- John Michael
- Randall Spilker
- Kevin Anderson
- Dr. Leavitt
- Teresa's mother (movie)
- Katie McVoy
- In The Game of Lives (book three of James Dashner's Mortality Doctrine series), the protagonist is described as a Flare-infected Crank.