Why is the risk of major epidemics increasing?


  • An individual born in the year 2000 had a 38% chance of contracting an epidemic of the size of Covid-19 in their lifetime.
  • A new pandemic of a similar magnitude to Covid-19 is likely within 59 years.

The Covid-19 pandemic is arguably the most serious viral epidemic the world has seen in more than a century. But statistically, such extreme events are not as rare as one might think. This is confirmed by a new analysis of the epidemics that have emerged during the past four hundred years. In the results published on August 23 in PNAS, its authors claim that the probability of facing an epidemic event like the case of Covid could double in the coming decades.

The probability of an outbreak of the disease in the future only increases

The researchers suggest that the probability of a pandemic with an impact similar to that of Covid-19 is about 2% each year. This means that a person born in the year 2000 has a 38% chance of conceiving. According to them, this possibility is only increasing. These figures, according to her, underscore the need to adjust pandemic risk perceptions and forecasts in terms of preparedness. “The most important point to remember is that major pandemics like Covid-19 and the Spanish Flu are relatively likelysays William Ban, co-author of the study. Understanding that epidemics are not rare should prioritize efforts to prevent and control them in the future. ”

For the study, the scientists used new statistical methods to measure the size and frequency of epidemics for which there had been no immediate medical intervention over the past four centuries. Their analysis included plague, smallpox, cholera, typhus, and new influenza viruses. They recognized a wide variation in the incidence of epidemics in the past, but were able to identify patterns that allowed them to describe the likelihood of recurring events of similar scale.

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The risk of new epidemics could triple

In the case of the deadliest pandemic in modern history, the Spanish flu that killed more than 30 million people between 1918 and 1920, the probability of a pandemic of the same size varied from 0.3% to 1.9% annually over the course of the year. The study period. Figures indicating that it is statistically likely that a pandemic of this magnitude will occur in the next 400 years.

The researchers add that the risk of epidemics is increasing rapidly. Based on the increased rate at which new pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2 have spread in humans over the past 50 years, the study estimates that the potential for new disease outbreaks is likely to triple over the coming decades.

COVID-19 pandemic for the next 59 years

Thanks to their mathematical model, the researchers estimate that a pandemic of a similar size to the Covid-19 model is likely within 59 years. They even went so far as to calculate the probability of a pandemic capable of wiping out all human life, without including that in the study. They believe this is likely to happen within the next 12,000 years.

This does not mean that we can count on a 59-year deadline of a Covid pandemic, nor that we are immune to a catastrophe the size of the Spanish flu for another 300 years., recalls Gabriel Catul, co-author of the study. Such events are also likely to occur in any year during the period. When a 100-year flood occurs today, it can be mistakenly assumed that we can wait another 100 years before experiencing another such event. This impression is wrong. We could have another flood for a hundred years the following year. “

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