Breakthroughs in science and technology are allowing people to live longer than ever before, but there’s increasing concern about a possible global pandemic that could kill millions.
“With global markets, our food supply coming from different countries and exotic travel commonplace, the world is in one sense getting smaller, and it makes disease more communicable, ” said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey.
Louis, who is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical, says there are several reasons why the risk is greater now than it’s ever been.
“The climate is changing and as certain parts of our country become drier and hotter, mosquitoes are prone to proliferate,” he said.
He noted as mosquitoes extend further north along the east coast, we would expect more dengue fever, chikungunya and other mosquito-borne illnesses to increase.
Even more concerning is the potential threat posed by different types of bird flu.
“With some mutations it could mutate to the point where it’s spread very rapidly from human to human, so you have the makings of a pandemic that way,” he said.
Louie says in parts of China “there have been a few deaths already, so if certain mutations occur, nowadays with international travel, it could spread very easily.”
“You could have a virus travel from China to different parts of the world, then we could have a large epidemic on our hands.”
Louie explained part of the potential danger is we don’t have medicines to fight off this kind of pandemic threat because we wouldn’t know exactly what would be needed until a particular avian influenza mutates and begins spreading in the human population.
“It’s very hard to know: each virus is different, each flu season, for instance, you don’t know if a lot of people will die or not. Same thing with bird flu,” he said.
“Some strains might be very fatal, and some strains might be harmless, so you don’t know until it happens.”
He said the worst-case scenario is quite worrisome.
“There are enough mutations that it spreads very rapidly and it can be deadly.”
Another danger is from so-called “superbugs” — bacteria that doesn’t respond to antibiotics.
Louie explains if someone from this country goes to a hospital in another country “and they pick up some superbug there and they come back to the United States they can easily spread it.”
He added, “Health officials are aware of these threats but we have to remain vigilant and be careful.”
Louie says climate change has a definite effect on disease, and from a scientific and medical point of view, “reversing climate change would be a good idea to prevent some of these mosquito borne illnesses from becoming much greater problems.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com