(Posted 2/21/2020) This latest outbreak is serious. Probably more serious than officials are letting on. People in other countries are dying. How long before the disease arrives in the U.S. (if it’s not already here) is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that there WILL be another pandemic. We don’t know when, and we don’t know how, but we know that it’s coming.

Maybe it’s already here.

The last major pandemic happened a little over a hundred years ago, in 1918. The Spanish flu was our first encounter with the H1N1 influenza virus. It was deadly. Five hundred 500 million people around the world were infected, and up to 100 million died of the disease. It was one of the deadliest epidemics in human history, and with the numbers of people sick and dying, hospitals were soon overwhelmed. Partly as a result, mortuaries and funeral homes were inundated with the dead. With bodies piling up at such a rapid rate, towns and cities had to resort to what might seem unthinkable today– mass graves.

The next time we encountered the H1N1 influenza virus was in 2009, when the swine flu showed up. It infected roughly 27% of the world population at the time, and may have infected more than 22 million Americans, with somewhere in the vicinity of 10,000 reported deaths. While the 2009 outbreak caused some concern among Americans, the relatively low mortality rate did not cause a national panic. This time could be different.

Dr. Syra Madam
Dr. Syra Madad is an infectious disease outbreak expert based in New York
Let’s begin with credentials. Dr. Syra Madad is the Director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at New York City Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest municipal healthcare delivery system. She is a professor at the Graduate Biotechnology Program at the University of Maryland University College and Core Faculty in the National Ebola Training and Education Center (NETEC). She teaches courses ranging from advanced microbiology to bioterrorism and biosecurity. She is responsible for preparing New York City’s municipals hospitals to fight against infectious disease outbreaks. She knows what she is talking about, and she knows that the next pandemic is likely imminent.

“What worries me is that it just takes one person to start an outbreak,” Madad said in a documentary called Pandemic: ‘How to Prevent an Outbreak,’ presently airing on Netflix. “We’re basically human incubators, we can host a number of different diseases. It’s just a matter of time where the next pandemic is going to start, we just don’t know where or how, but we know it will.”

Welcome to coronavirus.

Coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in November 2019. While it has not yet been officially declared a pandemic, it likely will be, as the coronavirus disease has already been confirmed in as many as 100 countries around the globe. The entire Chinese province of Hubei has been quarantined.

The danger or waiting too late to declare this disease a pandemic means that travel restrictions may not be imposed and other preventative measures not given appropriate emphasis until too late to stop its spread. The words of Dr. Madad ring ominously true: it only takes one start an outbreak. The mortality rate of coronavirus has not yet been determined, but early estimates place it at three to four percent– a low enough number if the overall infection count stays low.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this disease. Stay tuned.