Insights · April 28th, 2009
Thinking about the current Swine Flu epidemic and possible pandemic, a couple of thoughts. First, among the most asked question of me as a futurist speaker in the past several years has been, “Will we eventually be wiped out by a global pandemic or plague?â€ My answer is that this is possible, but nearly as remote a possibility as being wiped out by an asteroid. In fact, the asteroid scenario has a better chance of ending the human species on earth.
Why have I answered this way? Has the current situation changed my thinking? Not at all. What we see in the current epidemic is the ability of a new virus form to appear, but this happens on a regular basis. This is not new.
What is new is the global communication network that did not exist in 1918 or until recently. With just a few thousand total cases, and barely a hundred known deaths, the entire global community – government, science, health, travel, and so on – are mobilized. This is the reason a true pandemic is so unlikely today.
Of course rapid travel by jet plane means that a virus can be spread world-wide in a day or two, and that may be the case now. But, even before disease manifests in a given area, everyone is on alert, and scientists continue the around-the-clock global race to find mitigations, whether vaccine, or treatment, or whatever it takes. So again, the pandemic risk is small, if a pandemic requires thousands and thousands or millions of cases.
Watchfulness is wise. But consider this paradox: The Internet (and 24-hour satellite news) fan the flames of global panic even as they provide the communication tools through which the panic most likely becomes unnecessary.