• Worst-case global pandemic scenario: 700,000 dead, $500 billion in economic losses

    The worldwide spread of a serious infectious disease could result in pandemic-related deaths of 700,000 and annual economic losses of $500 billion, according to a study. The dollar figure of economic losses is much higher than those found in previous studies, which, according to the study, means “there is an unmet need for greater investment in preparedness against major epidemics and pandemics.”

  • Mobility patterns influence the spread -- or containment -- of an epidemic

    Contrary to expectations, recurring mobility between different cities or districts of a large city (for example, from home to work and back again) can minimize the spread of an epidemic. During an epidemic, common sense tells us that we should isolate ourselves from the rest of the population or reduce our movements to diminish the likelihood of contagion. However, far from improving the situation, isolating ourselves may increase our chances of contracting the disease and worsen the existing local situation.

  • Experts criticize lack of flu pandemic readiness, commitment

    Armed with 1940s-vintage flu vaccine technology and supported by only anemic funding for developing truly revolutionary vaccines, the world is woefully unprepared for the next influenza pandemic, and the Trump administration is ignoring the problem, two experts wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece. “There is no apparent effort to make [next-generation flu] vaccines a priority in the current administration. Its national security strategy published last month cites Ebola and SARS as potential bioterrorism and pandemic threats, yet makes no mention of the risk of pandemic influenza nor any aspect of critical vaccine research and development,” the two experts write.

  • Preventing viral disease outbreaks

    Avian influenza (H7N9). MERS coronavirus. Ebola. Hepatitis E. Yellow Fever. Lassa. Zika. When you consider the viral infectious diseases that emerged and reemerged around the world in 2017 alone, what many of them have in common is that they originated in animals and spilled over into humans after a series of mutations that enable the pathogens to jump species. DARPA’s PREEMPT aims to predict and contain viral mutations to prevent cross-species transmission of disease from animals and insects to humans.

  • The global flu pandemic: 100 years later

    Called “La grippe,” “three-day fever” and the “Spanish flu,” the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 ravaged communities worldwide, claiming the lives of an estimated 25 million to 50 million people. In the United States, more than 25 percent of the population was affected by the extremely virulent influenza A H1N1 virus, forcing schools, theaters and public places to close. Nearly 100 years later, the threat of another influenza pandemic looms large as the scientific and global health communities find ways to prepare for, and battle, future outbreaks.

  • As emerging diseases spread from wildlife to humans, can we predict the next big pandemic?

    Viruses have been moving between organisms for millions of years. And not always in a way that causes harm: Animals and humans alike host millions of different microorganisms, many of which are beneficial. For those that do harm humans, the first step is to come in contact with us. And that’s becoming more and more likely as we invade pristine forests in search of food, building materials, space for commercial developments or land upon which we can create new grassland for our livestock — or catch critters for bushmeat, pets or the “wildlife selfie” trade. Two ambitious projects aim to understand when and how the next human disease will emerge from wildlife, and what we can do to minimize harm when it does.

  • Predicting pandemics: Global spread of hemorrhagic fever viruses

    As successive epidemics have swept the world, the scientific community has quickly learned from them about the emergence and transmission of communicable diseases. Epidemics usually occur when health systems are unprepared. During an unexpected epidemic, health authorities engage in damage control, fear drives action, and the desire to understand the threat is greatest. As humanity recovers, policy-makers seek scientific expertise to improve their “preparedness” to face future events.

  • Limited global risk of Madagascar’s pneumonic plague epidemic

    Mathematical models have proven the risk of the on-going pneumonic plague epidemic in Madagascar spreading elsewhere in the world is limited. The study also estimated the epidemic’s basic reproduction number, or the average number of secondary cases generated by a single primary case, at 1.73. The case fatality risk was 5.5 percent. This was the world’s first real-time study into the epidemiological dynamics of the largest ever pneumonic plague epidemic in the African nation.

  • Animal health as a marker for predicting epidemics in human populations

    Researchers know that zoonotic diseases — illnesses transmitted from animals to humans — are the culprit behind most of the outbreaks that circled the globe over the last decade. First monkeys, and then bats, were discovered to be carriers of the deadly strain of Ebola that killed thousands of people between 2014 and 2016. Mosquitos are behind the Zika and West Nile virus, while birds carry avian flu. Animal health is increasingly gaining focus as a marker for predicting health epidemics among the human population.

  • Identifying biomarkers that indicate likelihood of survival in infected patients

    Scientists have identified a set of biomarkers that indicate which patients infected with the Ebola virus are most at risk of dying from the disease. The findings could allow clinicians to prioritize the scarce treatment resources available and provide them to the sickest patients.

  • Plague outbreak: where does it still exist, and could it spread?

    An outbreak of plague has been occurring in Madagascar, with more than 2,000 cases and 170 deaths reported since August 2017. This island nation is one of the few remaining hotspots for plague in the world, with cases usually reported between September and April each year. It’s not possible to eradicate plague, as it is widespread in wildlife rodents outside the sphere of human influence. Outbreaks generally are managed reactively by “firefighting teams” deployed to clear houses of fleas, identify and treat cases and give pre-emptive treatment to contacts at risk. A more preventative approach, such as the identification of areas at risk using climate models and animal surveys to focus flea and rat control efforts would be better. But this requires a better understanding of transmission pathways in each region where disease persists.

  • More than 1,300 suspected plague cases reported in Madagascar

    The World Health Organization (WHO) reported a total of 1,309 suspected cases, including 93 deaths, in an update 27 October on the plague outbreak in Madagascar. The case-fatality rate for the outbreak is now 7 percent. The numbers reflect an increase of 12 cases and 9 fewer deaths from the WHO’s previous update on 20 October.

  • The dangerous combination of civil war and threat of global pandemics

    There are thirty civil wars underway around the globe, where civilians are dealing with death and destruction as well as public health emergencies exacerbated by the deadly march of conflict. And yet today, of the nearly 200 countries on this planet, only six nations — three rich ones and three poor ones — have taken steps to evaluate their ability to withstand a global pandemic. “The bottom line is that despite the profound global threat of pandemics, there remains no global health mechanism to force parties to act in accordance with global health interests,” says one expert. “The unpredictability of a serious infectious outbreak, the speed with which it can disseminate, and the fears of domestic political audience can together create a powerful destabilizing force,” says another.

  • The pandemic potential of latest H7N9 flu strains

    During China’s unprecedented fifth wave of H7N9 avian influenza activity, worrisome changes to the virus emerged, including a shift to a highly pathogenic form with some infections able to resist neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu, and now researchers who put the virus through its paces in animal studies are warning that the virus could easily become more lethal and resistant to treatment.

  • Plague total grows in Madagascar: WHO

    The World Health Organization (WHO) said in an update on Madagascar’s plague outbreak that the number of infections as of Saturday has climbed to 684, an increase of 297 cases since its last update on 9 October. Also, health officials in Seychelles are closely monitoring eleven people in hospital isolation, a step that follows the announcement late last week of a probable imported case in a man who had traveled to Madagascar.