The researchers emphasized the need of increasing efforts to prevent and prepare for such events
NEW DELHI — According to a new study, major pandemics aren’t all that uncommon, and they’re expected to happen more frequently in the future.
The most important message is that pandemics like COVID-19 and the Spanish flu are relatively likely, study co-author William Pan, an associate professor of global environmental health at Duke University, stated in a press release.
The researchers stressed the importance of stepping up efforts to prevent and prepare for them.
Their research looked at disease outbreaks around the world over the last 400 years, including plague, smallpox, cholera, typhus, and novel influenza viruses, and found that the chance of a pandemic on the same size as COVID-19 is roughly 2% in any given year.
That means that someone born in the year 2000 has a 38 percent chance of having experienced one by today.
Deadly pandemic like Spanish flu to occur over next 400 years
The Spanish flu, which killed more than 30 million people between 1918 and 1920, was the deadliest pandemic in human history.
According to the researchers, the chance of a pandemic of similar severity varied from 0.3 percent to 1.9 percent per year, implying that a similar pandemic is statistically likely to occur over the next 400 years.
However, the researchers cautioned that the increasing rate at which new infections have appeared in humans over the last 50 years indicates that the likelihood of new disease outbreaks will increase threefold in the next few decades.
They predicted that a pandemic on the scope of COVID-19 will occur within 59 years based on the increasing risk.
Pandemic ending all human life likely during the next 12,000 years
The authors also predicted that a pandemic capable of eradicating all human life is statistically likely during the next 12,000 years, but this finding was not included in the paper.
Despite estimates that a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 may strike in 59 years and one on the scale of the Spanish flu in a few hundred years, the researchers cautioned that they could strike at any time.
Research co-author Gabriel Katul, a Duke professor of hydrology and micrometeorology, said when a 100-year flood occurs today, one would mistakenly believe that one can wait another 100 years before suffering another such disaster.
Gabriel warns that this is a false perception and adds that the next year, another 100-year flood could occur.
Varied factors could be contributing to frequent pandemics
William Pan, on the other hand, proposes that population growth, environmental damage, changes in food systems, and more contact between people and disease-carrying animals could all be contributing causes to increasingly frequent pandemics.
The researchers stress on the necessity of early response to disease outbreaks and establishing capacity for pandemic surveillance at the local and global levels as well as setting a research agenda for understanding why major outbreaks are becoming more common.
It is pertinent to mention that the findings are published in the August 31 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.