Overview: Pandemics

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Author: Dr. Ronald St. John

Throughout history there have been outbreaks of infectious diseases. The well-known plague epidemic (Black Death) was a devastating global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s, wiping out an estimated one-third of the population. Disease outbreaks, when large in scope, have been referred to as epidemics. More recently, epidemics that have involved or might involve the global population have been labelled as pandemics.

When does an epidemic become a pandemic? There is no single accepted definition of the term pandemic (ref: Journal of Infectious Diseases, Vol. 200:7, 1 October 2009). Some considerations for labelling an outbreak as a pandemic include outbreaks of diseases:

  • that extend over large geographic areas, e.g., influenza, HIV/AIDS
  • that have high attack rates and explosiveness, e.g., common-source acquisition and highly contagious diseases with short incubation periods
  • that affect populations with minimal population immunity
  • that involve a new or novel version of an infectious agent – the term pandemic has been used most commonly to describe diseases that are new, or at least associated with novel variants of existing organisms, e.g., influenza.
  • that are highly contagious. Many, if not most, infectious diseases considered to be pandemic by public health officials are contagious from person to person
  • that have severe health consequences. The term pandemic has been applied to severe or fatal diseases

For purposes of this paper, a pandemic is an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.(1)

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General reference sources

Brilliant, Larry. 2006. “My Wish: Help Me Stop Pandemics.” Video of lecture presented at the TEDTalks, Monterey, CA. https://www.ted.com/talks/larry_brilliant_wants_to_stop_pandemics.
Ives, Mike, and Donald G. McNeil, Jr. 2017. “As Drug-Resistant Malaria Spreads, Experts Warn of Global Crisis.” New York Times, November 23, 2017. hhttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/world/asia/malaria-drug-resistant-vietnam.htmlttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/world/asia/malaria-drug-resistant-vietnam.html.
Quick, Jonathan D. 2018. “Are We Prepared for the Looming Epidemic Threat?” The Observer, March 18, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/18/end-epidemics-aids-ebola-sars-sunday-essay.
Quick, Jonathan D. 2018. “We Need to Take Flu Outbreaks Far More Seriously.” Time, February 5, 2018.
Reardon, Sara. 2014. “The Rise of Antibiotic Resistance Rekindles Interest in a Century-Old Virus Treatment.” Nature, no. 510 (June): 15–16. https://doi.org/10.1038/510015a.
Senthilingam, Meera. 2017. “Seven Reasons We’re at More Risk than Ever of a Global Pandemic.” News site. CNN | Health. April 10, 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/03/health/pandemic-risk-virus-bacteria/index.html.
Smallman-Raynor, M R, and A D Cliff. 2004. War Epidemics: An Historical Geography of Infectious Diseases in Military Conflicts and Civil Strife 1850-2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Adam Wynne

This timely article addresses the rumours that COVID-19 is/was designed as a biological weapons, while simultaneously drawing attention to broader concerns and risks associated with biological weapons threats and/or biological weapons warfare. I am additionally cross-posting this to the Overview: War and Weapons comment section due to its relevance. Title: Could the Coronavirus Be a Biological Weapon in the Not-Too-Distant Future? Author: Deen, Thalif Publication(s): Inter Press Service: News Agency Date: 20 March 2020 Link: https://www.ipsnews.net/2020/03/coronavirus-biological-weapon-not-distant-future/ Article Excerpt(s): “The devastating spread of the deadly coronavirus across every continent– with the exception of Antarctica– has triggered a conspiracy theory on social… Read more »

Adam Wynne

This collection of 3 articles from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists offers an interesting perspective on the interconnections between COVID-19 and nuclear-related industries. I am additionally cross-posting this list to Overview: (Mass) Radiation Exposure and Overview: Enabling Measures due to its relevance. Title: How nuclear forces worldwide are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic Author: Krzyzaniak, John Publication(s): Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Date: 14 April 2020 Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/04/how-nuclear-forces-worldwide-are-dealing-with-the-coronavirus-pandemic Title: COVID-19 and the Doomsday Clock: Observations on managing global risk Author: Bulletin Science and Security Board Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Date: 15 April 2020 Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/04/covid-19-and-the-doomsday-clock-observations-on-managing-global-risk/ Title: Another victim of… Read more »

Adam Wynne

This article (an opinion piece) by Dr. Earl Turcotte – the Chair of the Canadian Network to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (CNANW) – offers a critical examination of the links between nuclear disarmament and other global crises, such as pandemics. Title: Public Health Crisis Offers New Lens Towards Nuclear Disarmament Author: Earl Turcotte Publication(s): The Hill Times Date: 15 April 2020 Link: https://www.hilltimes.com/2020/04/15/public-health-crisis-offers-new-lens-to-denuclearization/243749 If The Hill Times version is behind a paywall, the article is additionally available on CNANW’s website here: https://www.cnanw.ca/2020/04/ [I will cross-post this article / comment to the Overview: Enabling Measures and Overview: War and Weapons section of… Read more »

Adam Wynne

This article discusses a fascinating and vital initiative by the Amani Institute in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo in regards to the impacts of COVID-19 on displaced persons. COVID-19 poses particular challenges in conflict zones and displaced populations. Title: Coronavirus in a context of conflicts and humanitarian crisis in eastern DRCongo Author: Amani Institute Publication(s): Amani Institute Date: 4 May 2020 Link: https://amani-institute.org/2020/05/04/coronavirus-in-a-context-of-conflicts-and-humanitarian-crisis-in-eastern-drcongo/ Article Excerpt(s): “As the Coronavirus pandemic accelerates in Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is increasingly affected. Fear is gaining ground, especially in the east of the country, where numerous armed groups are fueling… Read more »

Adam Wynne

This is a very interesting article from The Editors at Scientific America in regards to the connection between deforestation and pandemics. Title: Stopping Deforestation Can Prevent Pandemics Author: The Editors (Scientific America) Publication(s): Scientific America Date: 1 May 2020 Link: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stopping-deforestation-can-prevent-pandemics/ Article Excerpt(s): “SARS, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2: all three of these highly infectious viruses have caused global panic since 2002—and all three of them jumped to humans from wild animals that live in dense tropical forests. Three quarters of the emerging pathogens that infect humans leaped from animals, many of them creatures in the forest habitats that we are… Read more »