125 Years of Pandemics – Credit ECDC
Although the next pandemic may not arrive for years, or even decades, the next big global health crisis could just as easily emerge this year or next. While many think we’ve `already had our pandemic’, there is no mandated minimum `time out’ period between these global events.
We’ve seen 6 influenza pandemics over the past 120 years (plus several `close calls’ in 1951, 1975, 1976 see Pseudo Pandemics And Viral Interlopers), and in recent years we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of viral threats in circulation (Influenzas, coronaviruses, etc.).
Last year, the Director of the CDC – Dr Thomas Frieden – weighed in on the pandemic threat in a special piece he penned for CNN News (see CDC Director Frieden: On Preventing A Pandemic). He wrote:
While it is impossible to know when another pandemic will occur, few scientists doubt that it will happen again. Pandemics have swept the globe for centuries, and show no signs of abating despite our modern medical advances.
According to respected anthropologist and researcher George Armelagos of Emory University, we have entered the age of re-emerging infectious diseases which he has dubbed The Third Epidemiological Transition. Dr. Armelagos describes this trend in his 2010 paper The Changing Disease-Scape in the Third Epidemiological Transition.
It is characterized by the continued prominence of chronic, non-infectious disease now augmented by the re-emergence of infectious diseases. Many of these infections were once thought to be under control but are now antibiotic resistant, while a number of “new” diseases are also rapidly emerging. The existence of pathogens that are resistant to multiple antibiotics, some of which are virtually untreatable, portends the possibility that we are living in the dusk of the antibiotic era. During our lifetime, it is possible that many pathogens that are resistant to all antibiotics will appear. Finally, the third epidemiological transition is characterized by a transportation system that results in rapid and extensive pathogen transmission.
In other words, the emergence of MERS-CoV, H5N1, Nipah, Hendra, Lyme Disease, H7N9, H5N6, H10N8, NDM-1, CRE, etc. are not temporary aberrations. They are the new norm, and we should get used to seeing more like these appear in the coming years.
In December of 2012 the U.S. National Intelligence Council released a report called "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds" that tries to anticipate the global shifts that will likely occur over the next two decades (see Black Swan Events). Number one on their hit parade?
Global Trends 2030's potential Black Swans
1. Severe Pandemic
"No one can predict which pathogen will be the next to start spreading to humans, or when or where such a development will occur," the report says. "Such an outbreak could result in millions of people suffering and dying in every corner of the world in less than six months."
The threat of another influenza pandemic is consistently ranked higher by most governments than a major cyber/terrorist attack, solar flare, or nuclear/WMD war – and is considered all but inevitable by many experts.
A decade ago, we saw a massive global push for pandemic preparedness, and many groups selected a CPO; a Chief Pandemic Officer. Someone in their business, organization, or family - whose job it was to coordinate their pandemic plan (see Quick! Who's Your CPO?)..
Unfortunately, since the 2009 pandemic was perceived by many as being mild and the next event thought years away, many corporate, organizational, or agency pandemic plans haven’t been updated – or in many cases even looked at – in years.
While it may sit on the back-burner for most people, Ready.gov and FEMA continue to urge pandemic preparedness. This from Ready.gov:
Inspire others to act by being an example yourself, Pledge to Prepare & tell others about it!
You can prepare for an influenza pandemic now. You should know both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak and what actions you can take to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on you and your family. This checklist will help you gather the information and resources you may need in case of a flu pandemic.
Plan for a Pandemic
- Store a two week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.
- Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
- Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
- Get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other sources and store them, for personal reference. HHS provides an online tool intended to help people locate and access their electronic health records from a variety of sources. http://healthit.gov/bluebutton
- Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
- Volunteer with local groups to prepare and assist with emergency response.
- Get involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic.
If you are an employer, you should know that OSHA considers it your responsibility to provide a safe workplace and has produced specific guidance on preparing workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic along with Guidance for Protecting Employees Against Avian Flu
Meanwhile, Flu.gov – the government’s influenza pandemic portal – has these (and other) documents available for business pandemic preparedness:
- Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist (PDF – 151 KB)
Lista de Preparacion en Empresas para una Pandemia de Gripe (PDF – 276 KB)
- Pandemic Preparedness Planning for US Businesses with Overseas Operations (PDF – 3.03 MB)
- Interim Pre-Pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States (PDF – 718 KB) (CDC)
- Interim Guidance on Environmental Management of Pandemic Influenza Virus
Learn more about how to clean and protect surfaces from the influenza virus.
They also say in their community preparedness section:
The federal government cannot prepare for or respond to the challenge of a flu pandemic alone. Your community can develop strategies that reduce the impact and spread of pandemic flu.
Faith-Based & Community Organizations Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Checklist (PDF – 68.91 KB)
Lista de Preparacion para una Pandemia de Gripe Tanto para Organizaciones Comunitarias como Religiosas (PDF – 268 KB)
Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation (PDF – 10.3 MB)
Plan Now to Be Ready for the Next Flu Pandemic (PDF – 213.55 KB)
The Next Flu Pandemic: What to Expect (PDF – 226.83 KB)
Their advice (and this is for before a pandemic threat becomes imminent).
And if you follow only one link from this blog post, I’d recommend the following 20 minute video produced by Public Health - Seattle & King County - called Business Not As Usual .
If you’ve not seen this movie, or haven’t seen it recently, it is well worth taking the time to watch it.
If preparing for a pandemic seems like a lot of work, you’re right.
This it isn’t something you want to start doing after a pandemic threat has already appeared. Pandemic planning should be part of your (company, agency, even family) overall disaster & recovery plan, and if you haven’t updated that recently, you (or your CPO) have a fair amount of work to do.
For more information on pandemic planning, you may want to revisit:
Pandemic Planning For Business
NPM13: Pandemic Planning Assumptions
The Pandemic Preparedness Messaging Dilemma