Nearing the conclusion of the First World War, both Western Europe and the United States were swept up once again in mass casualties. However, this time it was not mustard gas or trench warfare, but rather it was the spread of a highly virulent virus that quickly moved from epidemic to pandemic proportions. Known as the Spanish Influenza, this virus emerged from the prairies of the United States and quickly spread throughout the ravaged cities of war-torn Europe, causing catastrophic levels of death and human suffering. Much has changed in the subsequent century since the Spanish Influenza pandemic, most notably increased coordination between governments in regards to global health concerns and early warning systems of epidemics. And if current trends continue, the end of global pandemics may finally be a reality.
Primarily due to the growth of social media and greater governmental cooperation, local epidemics are being reported to World Health Organization officials at a much quicker rate, allowing for the deployment of huge networks of heath workers aimed at both containing and studying a disease prior to it mutating and becoming a pandemic. Innovative health care workers and research scientists are now utilizing the full potential of social media, and have managed to decrease the detection time of possible pandemics to 23 days, possibly ushering the end of global pandemics.
In regards to the end of global pandemics, TEDMED speaker Dr. Larry Brilliant recounted the eighty countries that came together to end smallpox which lasted for more than two centuries. “Today, we are finding diseases faster than anyone ever imagined,” he comments. “Innovations in early detection, early response and global cooperation can put an end to pandemics.”
A future free of disease-causing viruses capable of inflicting huge losses of life are primarily due to the impressive scientific advances in global health and social media that have occurred over the last decade. Moreover, as early detection times continue to decrease, will this generation be the first one to see the end of global pandemics? If health scientists such as Dr. Brilliant continue to forge ahead with their efforts, it’s more than likely a possibility. Dr. Brilliant comments that “We are closer every day.”
– Brian Turner