Tag Archives: pandemic

Public Health Risks in the 21st Century

Within the next 30 years, I foresee a significant public health risk of viral pandemic, a concern outlined in the recently published CISIS commission report (Fallon & Gayle, 2010). According to many, the next significant pandemic to be a global threat will occur anytime between now and 70 years (Gostin, 2004; Monto, Comanor, Shay, & Thompson, 2006; Ravilious, 2005; Smil, 2008; Tapper, 2006; Taubenberger, Morens, & Fauci, 2007). Although many scientists have their focus on influenza as the most probable for pandemic exposure, other novel virii, such as SARS, HIV, et al., have the facets to make them just as potentially significant (Gostin, 2004; Smil, 2008; Tapper, 2006). Regardless of the particular pathogen, history has shown pandemics to create and environment of negative net effects to humanity. According to Billings (1997) and Ravilious (2005), the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, caused by a mutated avian flu strain, claimed between 20-million and 40-million lives in a single year (Monto et al., 2006; Taubenberger et al., 2007). Spreading quickly along major international trade routes, the Spanish flu infected many servicemen returning from duty at the end of World War I. As these infected servicemen returned and celebrated the armistice in crowds of people, a severe strain on the public health system in the United States was unknowingly developing. Considering the hypervirilence and increased mortality (2.5%, compared to the typical 0.1%) caused by the 1918 Spaish flu, the world’s economy was in turmoil (Billings, 1997). As most of the American workforce was recently embroiled in overseas combat duty, upon their return they must now face the possibility of infection, an inability to work, and possible death.

Monto et al. (2006) outline a useful model of surveillance techniques that would not only be useful in detecting and improving response to influenza outbreaks, but it would certainly help to detect any new significant diseases that could be a public health risk and threaten a population or society. Additionally, Taubenberger et al. (2007) focuses on learning the biology of the influenza virus to predict the possibility of outbreak and, thus, pandemic potential. Coupling these two approaches makes sense to both identify potential pathogens and use surveillance techniques to track and direct responses to mitigate actual outbreaks as they occur. These efforts, however, should be directed by an organization that values independant operation, impartiality, neutrality, and universality, just a few of the principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movements (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2010). Adoption of these principles will allow valuable health information to flow freely to other entities positioned to respond appropriately without regard to local politics, ensuring a just and equitable solution to help to mitigate the potential for great harm.


Billings, M. (1997/2005). The influenza pandemic of 1918. Retrieved from http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/

Fallon, W. J. & Gayle, H. D. (2010). Report of the CISIS commission on smart global health policy: A healthier, safer and more prosperous world. Washington, DC: Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Gostin, L. O. (2004). Pandemic influenza: Public health preparedness for the next global health emergency. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 32(4), 565-573. doi:10.1111/j.1748-720X.2004.tb01962.x

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2010, July). Haiti: From sustaining lives to sustainable solutions – the challenge of sanitation. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.

Monto, A. S., Comanor, L., Shay, D. K., & Thompson, W. W. (2006). Epidemiology of pandemic influenza: use of surveillance and modeling for pandemic preparedness. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 194(Suppl. 2), S92-S97. doi:10.1086/507559

Ravilious, K. (2005, April 14). What a way to go. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2005/apr/14/research.science2

Smil, V. (2008). Global catastrophes and trends: the next fifty years. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Tapper, M. L. (2006). Emerging viral diseases and infectious disease risks. Haemophilia, 12(Suppl. 1), 3–7. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2516.2006.01194.x

Taubenberger, J. K., Morens, D. M., & Fauci, A. S. (2007). The next influenza pandemic: Can it be predicted? Journal of the American Medical Association, 297(18), 2025–2027. doi:10.1001/jama.297.18.2025.