Pandemic, disease, and epidemic are some of the most powerful words we use to describe an outbreak of a disease. Yet, these words carry all sorts of connotations that don’t help us understand the exact causes of disease. The word epidemic, in particular, has long provided a convenient cover for the medical establishment to hide behind. But the reality is that today’s epidemics are not the same as the ones that plague society’s past.
The next flu pandemic could kill millions and wipe out the fear of death. It may not be a virus you’ve heard of before, but it has a history of killing millions. The 1918 flu pandemic killed 40 million people worldwide. In 1957, an outbreak of a new flu virus killed more than 1 million people. What does it mean?
The world is not prepared for a pandemic virus. The flu virus has lost its power to spread, but we are not sure it is enough. The new virus seems to be the same as the previous ones, or even different. A lot has been written about the next pandemic. Some say the likelihood of a pandemic is minimal; others say it’s inevitable. However, if outbreaks do occur, we’ll need a way to detect them and alert the public.
Early Warning Systems
The world is always in danger from a natural disaster or a bioterrorist attack. In order to protect the Earth from the bad things that might happen, we need to have early warning systems.
The term early warning system describes many different kinds of systems and events that alert people to a potential threat of a disease-causing agent. Some of these include:
- Public health warnings, such as mass vaccination campaigns or government health information bulletins
- Information on disease outbreaks being reported in the news
- People noticing subtle symptoms of a disease and reporting to a doctor
- Infectious agents being detected in the environment, such as in food or animal environments.
Pandemics are nothing to be taken lightly. They can have huge and unforeseen consequences. Most of these consequences are bad. Even though the world has changed and evolved a lot in the last few decades, there are still a few countries that don’t have an early warning system for pandemics. There are many reasons for this, most likely stemming from the fact that it’s hard to convince people of the importance of an early warning system and to spend the money necessary for its development.
Since the first H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009, scientists have been developing early warning systems to detect the early stages of pandemic outbreaks. These systems would alert the public and medical personnel about the early signs of the virus, allowing more time to prepare.
Warning systems for future pandemics often rely on human intuition and self-reporting by citizens, which is notoriously inaccurate. The CDC uses a system called the PulseNet system that relies in part on lab testing and field epidemiologic investigations to make sense of the spread of disease. Luckily, modern medicine can stop disease and prevent it from spreading.
The Concept Behind the System
The concept behind early warning systems is simple: If an event occurs in the future that impacts the health of people, it would be wise to know about it before it happens. In this way, people can take steps to minimize the effects of the event. It is important to note that a warning system can be more than just a prediction of an event. But one that alerts people to the need to take measures to protect themselves.
Unlike a great flu outbreak, the only way to avoid a pandemic is to be prepared—prepared for how to respond to the disease and for the possible effects of the virus on each person and the population. A great example of how a pandemic can quickly come to fruition is a SARS outbreak, which spread from a hospital, and caused the death of hundreds of people.
A major part of helping people prepare for a pandemic is making sure they know what to do. A great way to help people be ready for a viral outbreak is through the use of early warning systems. There is a lot of potential with cutting-edge technology for the future of early warning systems – for example, developing a system to warn people of the next global pandemic faster than it could spread. As well, there are many other ways to step up our game for a pandemic, even if we don’t know it’s on its way.