What Are Pandemics?

Podcast of the Day

What natural disaster is most likely to kill more than 10 million human beings in the next 20 years?

Terrorism? Famine? An asteroid?

Actually it’s probably a pandemic: a deadly new disease that spreads out of control. We’ve recently seen the risks with Ebola and swine flu, but they pale in comparison to the Spanish flu which killed 3% of the world’s population in 1918 to 1920. If a pandemic of that scale happened again today, 200 million would die.

Looking back further, the Black Death killed 30 to 60% of Europe’s population, which would today be two to four billion globally.

The world is woefully unprepared to deal with new diseases. Many countries have weak or non-existent health services. Diseases can spread worldwide in days due to air travel. And international efforts to limit the spread of new diseases are slow, if they happen at all.

Even more worryingly, scientific advances are making it easier to create diseases much worse than anything nature could throw at us – whether by accident or deliberately.

In this in-depth interview I speak to Howie Lempel, who spent years studying pandemic preparedness for the Open Philanthropy Project.

Listen to the 80000 Hours episode on Pandemics

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the great influenza pandemic of 1918. Between 50 and 100 million people are thought to have died, representing as much as 5 percent of the world’s population. Half a billion people were infected.

Especially remarkable was the 1918 flu’s predilection for taking the lives of otherwise healthy young adults, as opposed to children and the elderly, who usually suffer most. Some have called it the greatest pandemic in history.

The 1918 flu pandemic has been a regular subject of speculation over the last century. Historians and scientists have advanced numerous hypotheses regarding its origin, spread and consequences. As a result, many of us harbor misconceptions about it.

By correcting these 10 myths, we can better understand what actually happened and learn how to prevent and mitigate such disasters in the future...

Continue reading Richard Gunderman's article: The 'greatest pandemic in history' was 100 years ago – but many of us still get the basic facts wrong

Further Reading

A pandemic (from Greek πᾶν pan "all" and δῆμος demos "people") is an epidemic of infectious disease that has spread through human populations across a large region; for instance multiple continents, or even worldwide.

A widespread endemic disease that is stable in terms of how many people are getting sick from it is not a pandemic. Further, flu pandemics generally exclude recurrences of seasonal flu. Throughout history, there have been a number of pandemics, such as smallpox and tuberculosis. One of the most devastating pandemics was the Black Death, killing over 75 million people in 1350. The most recent pandemics include the HIV pandemic as well as the 1918 and 2009 H1N1 pandemics...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Pandemics

Related Topics

 Global Catastrophic Risks | Philanthropy

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