Coming, ready or not
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The threat of a global pandemic is rising again. In China an influenza virus never before seen in people had, as The Economist went to press, infected at least 82 and killed 17. Meanwhile a new type of coronavirus, the family that brought severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), is festering in the Middle East. The risk of such an outbreak turning into a pandemic is low, but the danger, if it does, is huge: in 1918 50m-100m people were killed by Spanish flu, compared with 16m in the first world war and 30m so far from AIDS.
Fortunately, the world is better prepared for an outbreak than ever before (see article). SARS in 2003, the H5N1 bird flu of 2005 and the H1N1 swine flu of 2009 have prompted action. By 2011, 158 countries had pandemic-preparedness plans. America has poured money into the development of new vaccines and antiviral drugs. Researchers have a better understanding of influenza and other risky pathogens. Rapid amplification of DNA segments helps scientists identify viruses quickly. Full genomic sequencing allows them to explore worrying strains. Mathematical models predict where a new disease might emerge and how it might spread.
- Health Care