Understanding Pandemics

On the morning of February 18, 2020, a World Health Organization spokesperson gave a press conference to update the world about the spread of Coronavirus. The respiratory disease has become a global concern over the last few months, with some experts calling the potential for global outbreak a "credible risk," while others criticized the press for hyperbolic reporting. The virus, which originated in the central Chinese province of Hubai, has alarmed the international community. Countries have scrambled to quarantine potential cases, including those on airplanes and cruise ships. The WHO has been criticized for its initial response to the virus, with accusations that it was overly deferential to the Chinese government from whom it receives a portion of its funding. 

As the world waits to see how this will unfold, it's helpful to study other pandemics through history to see how these challenges have been approached in the past. Historically, there were often obvious indicators that explained the diseases' spread, such as unsanitary conditions and the Bubonic Plague, or battlefield conditions and the Spanish Flu. Epidemiologists worry about future pandemics as their spread are less predictable. Coronaviruses, such as Wuhan but also SARS, are spread in a number of ways that are more difficult to contain. Global travel has made projections even harder to foresee. In addition, there are concerns that our reliance on antibiotics, once the most miraculous discovery in medical science, is leading to stronger, more resistant viruses.

This is not to unnecessarily cause alarm, but to show that humanity has successfully thwarted pandemics in the past and will do so again. As with most things, understanding historical context is a good way to draw parallels to our present and better understand our future.

The Great Mortality

Spillover

American Plagues

Polio

Influenza

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