The Age of Pandemics- Wall Street Journal
The threat of deadly new viruses is on the rise due to population growth, climate change and increased contact between humans and animals. What the world needs to do to prepare.
In 1967, the country’s surgeon general, William Stewart, famously said, “The time has come to close the book on infectious diseases. We have basically wiped out infection in the United States.” This premature victory declaration, perhaps based on early public health victories over 19th-century infectious diseases, has entered the lore of epidemiologists who know that, if anything, the time has come to open the book to a new and dangerous chapter on 21st-century communicable diseases.
Flu: Complete Coverage
Indeed, to the epidemiological community, the Influenza Pandemic of 2009 is one of the most widely anticipated diseases in history. Epidemiologists have been shouting from rooftops that a pandemic (or, a world-wide epidemic) of influenza is overdue, and that it is not a matter of “if” but “when.” The current pathogen creating the threat is actually a mixture of viral genetic elements from all over the globe that have sorted, shifted, sorted, shifted, drifted and recombined to form this worrisome virus.
No one knows if the 2009 swine flu will behave like the 1918 Spanish flu that killed 50 million to 100 million world-wide, or like the 1957 Asian flu and 1968 Hong Kong flu that killed far fewer. This 2009 flu may weaken and lose its virulence, or strengthen and gain virulence — we just do not know.
Here’s the good news: Compared with a few years ago, the world is somewhat better prepared to deal with pandemic influenza. There have been training meetings, table-top exercises, dry runs and preparedness drills at virtually every level of government and civil society. World Health Organization member states have agreed on a set of regulations that require all members to report the status of diseases of global significance within their borders. We have two effective antiviral drugs, at least for the time being. There have been some breakthroughs to reduce the time required to get effective vaccines into the field, and there is even a small chance that last year’s seasonal vaccine will help protect lives from H1N1. In the U.S. at least, influenza surveillance has improved…read more here…