When a society is in pandemic mode, there are so many things that one has to think about and take care of. Let’s look at three questions that can directly affect us. How would we find out about the pandemic? How long would it take to develop an antidote or vaccine? And what can we do to prepare ourselves and our families?
So the first consideration would be to keep yourself aware. The most obvious way individuals can know about a pandemic is from government announcements or press releases. Alternatively, there are many new technologies, that would be helpful in an outbreak situation.
Do you think the best source of information would be mHealth—meaning an alert by the latest, most innovative wireless mobile healthcare technology? How about a Google flu trends report on the Internet? How about OutBreaksNearMe app, a Facebook posting or a Twitter tweet? Or the regular news media? All of these, of course, are good sources, depending on your daily life habits.
Learn more about the deadly emerging and reemerging diseases.
Disease Alerts and Vaccines
To help out, there will be several worldwide disease alert systems that are already in place, and most will accept incoming information from any source—individual or otherwise.
A collaborative network of many world health organizations, known as the Global Early Warning System (or GLEWS), exists to improve early warning and risk assessment on zoonotic and emerging infectious diseases. And Google and Yahoo are using key search words to determine whether this type of collective intelligence gathering could predict outbreaks. One thing we can predict is that technology will continue to evolve just as fast as the diseases.
Another important question to consider is, how long would it take to find an antidote or vaccine if it’s a new disease? It used to take a decade or more to get vaccines through the rigorous requirements of the FDA. With a global health crisis, it’s been reduced to 4 to 6 months, depending on the pathogen. But this means that those populations affected early in the pandemic will not have an available vaccine and will have to rely on current medications and supportive care.
This is a transcript from the video series An Introduction to Infectious Diseases. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Another rule-breaking decision was made by WHO panels of ethicists who were in unanimous agreement to offer untested treatments. One example of this is ZMapp, a drug that had been in development for over 10 years, but had not been tested. It was given to two Americans who contracted Ebola in Africa, and were flown to the US for treatment. The Americans recovered, but other patients given the same drug died.
Unfortunately, the drug was only available in a tiny quantity, since it was produced in genetically engineered tobacco plants, and it would take many more months to make more of the ZMapp.
Finally, you might be wondering what you should be doing to protect yourselves and your families. Obviously, staying away from sick people is just good common sense. Putting together an emergency kit and stocking up on food, water, and supplies would of course, be helpful. And getting N95 masks that can filter small particles, bacteria, and viruses, would also help.
In the event of a cataclysmic pandemic, airline travel would shut down, international trade would be curtailed, and Internet access may be limited or fail. Can you imagine the economic impact this would have? Every business should have a preparedness plan in place that would enable people to telecommute and still keep businesses going.
Rapid Changes and Responses
You can see that the future of infectious diseases is one of rapid changes. Infectious diseases can evolve rapidly, but our knowledge of disease causes and treatments is also evolving. Whirlwind developments in technology improve both our capability for diagnosis and treatment, and our ability to detect outbreaks before they get out of control.
In an ever-changing world where humans are over-running animal habitats, where diseases are jumping onto planes spreading worldwide in a matter of hours, scientists around the world are constantly looking for signals that will help avert the next infectious disease disaster. The key to containing the outbreaks will be a combination of enhanced surveillance, early detection, and rapid response.
We are fortunate to have many organizations worldwide that are watching over our health in this regard, and have access in this country to many forms of technology to keep us informed.
Common Questions about Pandemic Responses
There are many new technologies, that would be helpful in pandemic situation. For instance, an alert from a wireless mobile healthcare technology app, or a Google flu trends report on the Internet. It can also be from a OutBreaksNearMe app, a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet, or the regular news media.
Several worldwide disease alert systems are already in place. An example is Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network or GPHIN, uses automated, aggregated news feeds based on search queries.
It used to take a decade or more to get vaccines through the rigorous requirements of the FDA. With a global health crisis, it’s been reduced to 4 to 6 months, depending on the pathogen. In some cases, based on ethical concerns, even untested treatments may be rolled out to combat a pandemic.
Staying away from sick people is just good common sense in a pandemic. Putting together an emergency kit and stocking up on food, water, and supplies would of course, be helpful. And getting N95 masks that can filter small particles, bacteria, and viruses, would also help.