How could a pandemic happen?

18 June 2019

VIRUS-CARTOON

An artistic representation of a virus

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Question

How could a pandemic happen?

Answer

Haydn - Yeah that's right. So a pandemic is a really big disease, so a disease that would get everywhere in the world and infect a big percentage of the entire sort of world's population. So 100 years ago we had our last sort of really big pandemic, the Spanish flu. That killed more people actually than World War One, which had just came afterwards, and World War Two combined. So it killed between 50 and a hundred million people, so really devastating and yet not as well known as World War One and World War Two for some reason. And then more recently people will be familiar with things like Ebola or SARS or the swine flu bird flu. Lots of these things were animal diseases that hopped over into humans and sort of caused a lot of trouble. But that's not as bad as it could get. Right. Ebola hasn't killed thankfully that many people. Lots of doctors agreed that we're due a big pandemic flu that will affect lots and lots of people like it did a hundred years ago.

Chris - Why do they think that?

Haydn - It’s just happened very regularly throughout human history. And though we might be better placed in some respects, nowadays you know we all know to wash our hands and to sneeze into our arms and things like that. On the other hand we're much more interconnected. So if somebody ill gets on a plane in Heathrow they can be anywhere in the world in a few hours. One thing that we're particularly worried about is not just a natural pandemic, so a pandemic hopping over from another species, but someone cooking up a far nastier pandemic. There's some risk that something might escape from the lab or be deliberately made and released into the world. What we can do, nevertheless, is we can put in place various measures to try and reduce the risk. So better bio-surveillance around the world or better regulation of what is allowed to be published or what things you're allowed to order online.

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