A Primer for Pandemics

A few times each year, the world is reminded that a pandemic threat is immanent. In 2003, it was SARS. Today, it is a potential avian virus similar to the one that killed 30 million people after 1914.

“Bird flu” has already shown that it can jump from fowl to humans, and now even to cats, which indicates that it might be the next global killer. But there are many other potential pandemics, and many are not even viruses. Bacteria, prions, parasites, and even environmental factors could suddenly change in a way that slays us. It is widely predicted that when this happens, the economic and human losses will exceed that of any previous war.

Indeed, it is humbling to remember that some of history’s most deadly invasions were carried out by single-cell organisms, such as cholera, bubonic plague, and tuberculosis. Countries with the resources to do so are making resistance plans against pandemics – limited strategies that would protect their own citizens. Most governments are hoping that early detection will make containment possible.

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