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Name is required to post a comment. Please enter a valid email address. Subscribe in a reader. Great Photograph Poses the Question This photo beautifully illustrates the fear created by being associated with an illness or disease. Posted in Pawpourri Permalink Tags: Verify your Comment Previewing your Comment. This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted. It could be a variation of the Spanish flu , one of hundreds of other known microbial threats or something entirely new, such as the Sars virus that spread globally from China.
Once transmitted to a human, an airborne virus could pass from that one infected individual to 25, others within a week, and to more than , within the first month. Within three months, it could spread to every major urban centre in the world. And by six months, it could infect more than million people and kill more than 30 million.
This is not alarmist science fiction. It is one of several highly plausible scenarios — and far from the worst — developed by infectious disease specialists working with disease-modelling experts. Bill Gates , who funds a group that uses computer simulations to predict the spread of diseases, said: In the last century alone, smallpox killed to million people.
The Spanish flu killed 50 to million and Aids has taken 40 million lives since it was first recognised in The annual influenza outbreak still claims half a million people a year worldwide.
The west African Ebola crisis took more than 11, lives — seven times the total of the 22 Ebola epidemics that preceded it. For those who survive the initial infection, an epidemic leaves its own particular trail of disfigurement and disability. People who contracted smallpox suffered characteristic, sometimes horrific, scars, along with blindness, limb deformities and other disabilities. As a lifelong condition, Aids and the side-effects of treatment can affect nearly every body system, from brain to bone.
In the early stages of a new epidemic — before it has been recognised or how it spreads has been determined, and before appropriate protection measures are in place — health workers die in high numbers. As with war, where common illness can take more lives than war injuries, epidemics sometimes take more lives from disruption of primary health care than from the epidemic itself.
Because health workers are diverted to emergency response centres, and health facilities are sometimes closed, epidemics can also disrupt routine public healthcare needs such as immunisation, treatment of acute illness and facility-based births. Finally, there is the stunning financial and economic cost to households, communities, businesses and entire countries. Such a pandemic could cause a global stock market crash that obliterates the livelihoods and savings of millions of survivors.
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Many leaders, economists and scientists believe that the risk of potentially devastating epidemics could be prevented for a fraction of the cost of battling an out of control global pandemic. The obvious question is this: There are three broad answers. We are all afraid of death. We respond to the fear of epidemic disease by wanting to blame someone else. Aids was blamed on gay men. We want to punish those with the disease, pretending that whatever makes them other has cursed them. The most contagious behavioural reaction that affects political leaders, businesspeople and the public is panic that disproportionately exceeds the actual event.
Scared people overpersonalise the news, and their worries increase. Fear is a warning system intended to alert us to impending danger, just as it is in animals. When we let it override our rationality, we make things much worse. Second is denial and complacency, which often starts at the top, with political leaders or public health officials who reject the reality before them. Denial undermines the very trust needed to combat an epidemic.
And complacency sets in when the last epidemic passes. How many times do governments and leaders plead that there is no budget for preparedness? How many disease-fostering agribusiness companies line the pockets of politicians who conveniently overlook the threats bubbling up from factory farm sewage?
Not recognising these failings — and not doing everything we can in spite of them to prevent a potentially staggering loss of life and livelihood — would be not just irresponsible, but criminal. All kinds of complex and interconnected social, economic and environmental risk factors contribute to the emergence and spread of disease. Consider how just one, population growth, leads to a whole set of others. More than half that number will be born in Africa , and most of them will be packed into dense urban areas where an epidemic can spread like wildfire.
The more people there are, the greater the demand for shelter, food and water. Imagine that you are a poor person living in a remote part of Guinea or the Amazon jungle, and you want to do the thing that is most instinctive for all of us: If you are lucky enough to procure cows, goats or chickens, you need room for a pasture. And if you need wood for fires or to build a house, you chop down the trees. But your own personal needs are nothing in comparison to the demands of agribusiness and industry, which obliterates millions of acres of forestland each year.
Between and , these industries annually consumed some 13 million hectares 50, square miles. Clear-cutting — cutting down every tree in an area — brings people in closer contact with primates, rodents and bats that carry dangerous pathogens.
Some researchers believe that ravaged tropical forests and increased human activity in countries such as Liberia and Guinea presented an ideal opportunity for the Ebola virus to jump from its natural reservoir to humans. Deforestation also leads to flooding, which attracts mosquitoes. The hotter the jungle and the planet becomes as a result of all this deforestation, the happier mosquitoes are. Those that are not extinct may have migrated to more northerly realms that are rapidly becoming more hospitable, thanks to global climate change.
On any given day, millions of people around the world are moving around on planes, trains, boats, trucks and automobiles, some from places where undiscovered viruses are festering in the bloodstreams of wild beasts and fowls. An average of 10 million people a day take to the skies; 3. All this creates huge opportunities for the transcontinental spread of pathogens such as Sars , Ebola or Zika.
And the duration of the longest intercontinental flights is now greater than the incubation period of several common pathogens. A person may be asymptomatic when they get on a jumbo jet in Hong Kong, but by the time they land in New York they will have spread the virus to the crew and passengers.
In the case of Aids, the virus spread slowly at first. Then, as Africa became more urbanised and roads connected remote regions to cities, men went to the cities to look for work. Those men hooked up with infected prostitutes who spread the virus to clients. Disease travels especially fast in west Africa, where the population is highly mobile.