As the Covid-19 drags on, we are not immune from the onset of a new major pandemic. According to researchers, this is very likely to occur before the end of the 21st century.
Ultimately, coronavirus vaccines should make it possible to overcome the health crisis which continues to wreak havoc around the globe. But humanity is far from safe from the emergence of a new pandemic as deadly as Covid-19, which has already killed 4.4 million people. In a new article published in the journal PNAS, researchers from Duke University explain thatsuch a pandemic could manifest itself over the next six decades.
In addition, they argue that a pandemic of the magnitude of the Spanish flu of 1918 (between 20 and 100 million deaths) could break out every 400 years. “First of all, I want to make it clear that we don’t make predictions about the future. We characterize the likelihood of large epidemics occurring based on historical data ”, underlines the author of the study William Pan in the columns of Gizmodo.
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The world must prepare for the arrival of new pandemics
To establish their estimates, the researchers reviewed the main epidemics dating back 350 years, from plague to cholera, including different strains of influenza and other pathogens. They particularly focused on epidemics of emerging or re-emerging diseases that have killed at least 10,000 people.
Ongoing epidemics (malaria, Covid-19, HIV) or those that have become manageable thanks to vaccines and drugs were excluded from the analysis. In short, the frequency of outbreaks was quite variable. In particular, they have decreased over time. But the team says its new statistical modeling method has determined an approximate probability of occurrence. Thereby, the probability of a Covid-type pandemic occurring in a year is approximately 2%.
In other words, it could happen over the next 59 years. “We have shown the potential threat of global pandemics, but the real implication here is how to invest more effectively in global health and pandemic preparedness”, says Pan. Especially since these estimates may well underestimate the problem, as small-scale epidemics of emerging and re-emerging diseases have increased in recent decades.
By taking this increase into account in their modeling, the researchers concluded that the probability of annual occurrence of extreme epidemics could triple. A pandemic comparable to the Spanish flu would thus risk breaking out every 127 years on average, and not every 400 years.