Waiting to Die: The Next Pandemic

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Discussion: The Next Pandemic?

But he warned that it still takes too long to produce a vaccine. D r Friede said that decreasing or eliminating the time lag between identifying the flu strain and developing a vaccine was key. And he said that a universal flu vaccine - one that could be used against all strains of flu - would be a great boon. It is also a "call to action" to researchers to develop better treatments, vaccines and diagnostics.

6 Ways to Prepare for the Next Pandemic

Flu experts warn that another global influenza pandemic is inevitable, and that increased globalisation, urbanisation and movement of people will mean that the next pandemic will spread further and faster than ever before and cause significant disruption. The last major pandemic was the the H1N1 swine flu outbrak which is estimated to have caused between , and , deaths.

Here, Khan highlights the importance of efforts to understand and cooperate with local communities when fighting diseases—a response component that boils down to talking with people and not just counting them. But in the developed world we truly need to get a grip…. A fuzzier question, though, is just how afraid we should be of disease.

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Though Khan warns against decisions made in panic, he closes the book on a note of alarm: a list of illness categories that are pretty much always at risk of erupting. These include the flu, pneumonia, bugs that travel via medical tourism, viral fevers like Ebola, mosquito-borne viruses like Zika, and sexually transmitted diseases. Most of these are far more commonplace than Zika; the flu, the most familiar, could with a few mutations become the most devastating.

6 Ways to Prepare for the Next Pandemic

The solution to the danger posed by such unsexy illnesses, according to Khan, is an equally unsexy strategy of preparation. We need to do more to prevent outbreaks rather than wait and respond to emergencies. That means everything from goading resistant poultry farmers into documenting where they are burying disease-ridden birds, to reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics so we can lower the chances of medicine-resistant superbugs like the one reported in Pennsylvania last week , to creating worldwide mechanisms for public-health offices to communicate, since diseases travel—now more than ever.

Humanity is locked in a millennia-old battle to the death with diseases like these. We have fought them back with herculean effort.

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We developed penicillin and other antibiotics to treat bacteria like the ones thought responsible for the Black Death, and vaccines to fight viruses. But we are in an arms race. And while our ability to treat disease is better than ever before, the current outbreak of Ebola , and the first diagnosis of the virus outside of Africa, is reminding us that as our cities get bigger and international travel becomes easier, the risks involved in an outbreak grow ever higher.

Top 10 Worst Epidemics in History

Though Ebola has a high fatality rate when contracted, it is not the thing that keeps most epidemiologists up at night. It could theoretically become pandemic — that is, an out-of-control global epidemic — but experts say that is unlikely. Christophe Fraser, a professor of epidemiology at the medical research council center for outbreak analysis at Imperial College, London, described four factors that are crucial in determining how severe an epidemic will be: how easily the disease is transmitted; how feasible it is to develop a vaccine and a treatment; how long before symptoms are visible the patient is infectious; and the severity of the disease — what proportion of people who contract it die.

Ebola is very high on severity, and very low in terms of mode of transmission.

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Ebola is very unlikely to become the next Black Death. If flu was just as lethal. If H5N1 [avian flu] was as lethal in humans as it is in chickens — and studies have shown that it only takes about three mutations to make it highly lethal. Fraser said that pandemics are extremely difficult to predict because they all start from a random event: a pathogen crossing to humans from another species.