Data and Analytics, Detection and Diagnostics

Five Major Challenges for Pandemic Prediction and Prevention

Peter Daszak / IQT Quarterly Winter 2016

Dissecting the Anatomy of a Pandemic

Pandemics (diseases that spread globally) are rare events that are often devastating, causing substantial mortality and economic damage. Just like hurricanes or earthquakes, efforts to understand the origins of pandemics and predict their emergence would help reduce their impact and ultimately prevent them. However, unlike earthquakes or hurricanes, our efforts to understand the causes, patterns, and origins of pandemics are only just beginning. Here I highlight recent advances in disease ecology, virology, and biogeography that move us towards these goals. I also identify five critical questions that, if answered, will greatly enhance our ability to predict and prevent pandemics.

Predicting pandemics first requires analyzing trends and common themes in their emergence

Over the past few decades we have learned a great deal about the anatomy of a pandemic. Most pandemics originate as zoonoses (diseases from animals, mainly wildlife). In fact, every one of the true pandemics of the last 50 years has either originated entirely within a wild animal species (e.g., SARS originating in bats) or contains genes derived from wild animal viruses (e.g., pandemic influenza A H1N1/09 virus). Because most pandemics are caused by viruses, this article will focus on them.

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