Scientists Think They Know What Will Cause the Next Pandemic

Being ready for a crisis matters

Doctor with injection
Preparedness matters when it comes to pandemics.
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Having lived through a global pandemic once, I can say with some assurance that it’s now at or near the top of the list of things I’d like to never do again. I suspect I’m not alone in this, either. But COVID-19 isn’t the only pandemic to threaten public health in recent years, and it’s all too likely that we’ll be contending with another pandemic again before long. Thinking about that leads to another unsettling question: just what will that pandemic look like?

According to a recent survey of scientists from around the world, the answer involves influenza. As Robin McKie of The Observer reports, a survey — set for release in about a week — found that a majority of experts believe that the next pandemic will arise from the flu. McKie writes that “57% of senior disease experts” point to a flu strain as the next cause of a public health emergency.

Ranking second in the survey, with 21% of respondents’ votes, was a disease that has yet to be discovered.

“Influenza remained — by a very large degree, the number one threat in terms of its pandemic potential in the eyes of a large majority of world scientists,” Jon Salmanton-García of the University of Cologne told The Observer. Salmanton-García is the scientists behind the survey, the full scope of which is set to be revealed at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases‘ next congress, set for next weekend.

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Salmanton-García also referred to winter flu outbreaks as “little pandemics” — and argued that it was just a matter of time before an especially virulent strain arose during flu season.

Knowing what to expect during a pandemic can be useful for preparing for the next one, though even that preparedness has its limits. There’s been plenty of analysis over what Canada did and did not learn from its response to SARS when it came time to address COVID-19, for instance. Still, some preparedness is better than none at all, and this survey is a positive step in that direction.

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