Pandemic: It’s Not a Matter of If, but When

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This is the first of a four-part series on pandemics exploring the possibilities, the resources and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

What if you couldn’t talk to anyone? What if you couldn’t touch anyone? Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion asks us to consider the very real threat of a global pandemic. The film follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days, but Contagion is more than a frightening story: it is a terrifyingly accurate depiction of the devastation a pandemic could cause if we are not prepared.

While HIV and H1N1 quickly come to mind, the most significant pandemic of the last century was an especially virulent strain of influenza that came to be known as the Spanish Flu. Between 1918 and 1920, over 50 million people died in this pandemic—three percent of the world’s population at the time. Experts believe the virus spread so effectively in part due to the close quarters shared by military units in the First World War.

In our modern society we live in even closer quarters: airplanes, movie theaters, subways, and schools provide excellent conditions for the spread of contagious disease. Emerging diseases from animal origins, known as zoonoses, have the greatest pandemic potential, as humans have no natural antibodies capable of resistance. Use HealthMap to track and monitor pandemic threats near you.

While a pandemic is not preventable, the devastation and impact of a pandemic can be successfully mitigated. Simple preparations like keeping a personal two-week supply of water in your home, washing your hands several times a day, and learning how to sneeze properly can make all the difference. Visit the World Health Organization (WHO) to learn more about pandemic preparedness and follow along as we continue to explore the threat of pandemics in the coming months.

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