Pandemics have threatened mankind before and they may very well again. The question is, if and when that happens, will we be prepared? In past cases, societies were powerless to the spread of infectious disease. They hadn’t the medical expertise, data and ability to react that we do now. Though there are more avenues by which diseases can spread, there are also better technologies and procedures we may all soon have access to that can mitigate those dangers.
“If and when the next pandemic happens, will we be prepared for it?”
Predicting the next threat to mankind
Today, those of us fortunate enough to live in developed nations with access to advanced healthcare might think disease to be a relatively controlled threat. In other words, we know illness happens, but that it can be fought against and prevented. However, this thinking is somewhat flawed – infectious disease may have killed more people than war, natural disaster and non-infectious disease combined, according to a 1990 research paper from Emory University.
While those numbers are not exact, other scientists back up the claims, according to Vox.
“In a good year, flu kills over 10,000 Americans,” says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In a bad year, it kills over five times that. If we have a pandemic, it will be much worse. People think the H1N1 flu wasn’t so bad. But more than 1,000 American kids died from H1N1!”
And that’s in a country with ample resources and information on disease. In the developing world, disease can spread much faster and the mortality rate may be even higher. The recent Ebola outbreak was an example of how quickly infectious disease can send the world into hysterics – but also how the right leadership and information can quell the dangers.
Bill Gates puts Spanish flu in a modern perspective
In history, only once has an influenza outbreak been both highly contagious and highly lethal, said Bill Gates in an interview with Vox (watch full video below). That happened with Spanish flu, so named because the Spanish press was first to identify it, in 1918-1919. Just after World War I, Spanish flu killed nearly as many people as perished in World War II – close to 65 million. At the time, there was no way to stop it other than letting it run its course.
Fortunately for the human race, in 1918 there was not nearly as much global travel and commerce as there is now. So Gates used a disease modeling system to predict how the Spanish flu could spread today. By Day 100, it was close to 771,000 deaths across every populated continent. By Day 140, that number had ballooned to well over 12 million. At 260 days, the number of deaths reached 33.3 million and had spread to virtually every square inch of the populated globe.
With that said, we also have the “opportunity to do more than just let it run its course,” Gates said, which “only emerged in the past decade.”
Measures we can take to prevent the pandemic
The no. 1 thing we have now that we didn’t have during the Spanish flu is knowledge: both of safe practices, proper treatments and how to prevent from catching the disease. Max Brooks, author of zombie outbreak novel World War Z, told Vox that AIDS serves as a distinct example of the power of information. Instead of becoming a global epidemic, AIDS might have remained an “arcane curiosity” with “[a] couple dos and don’ts, a little education and clear-headed leadership.”
Still, simply knowing how to wash your hands and to cover your mouth when you sneeze may not be enough to prevent advanced super bugs from spreading. In those instances, it will take better technology and healthcare practices – something that is already underway.
About the Author
Aaron Loveland is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs at TOMI Environmental Solutions, Inc. in Washington, D.C. TOMI is a global bacteria decontamination and infectious disease control company, providing environmental solutions for indoor surface decontamination. You can connect with Aaron on LinkedIN.