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Why experts are certain another influenza pandemic will occur
It's been 100 years since the world's last deadliest flu pandemic. Experts warn that another one is inevitable, but are we ready?
- 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu killed over 50 million people.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 80,000 Americans died of the flu last winter.
- Experts stress that the world needs to take precautions and prepare for the next pandemic.
Humans have been fighting the influenza virus for millenia. We've discovered new strains throughout the years and also devised greater methods for eradicating them along the way. But on the 100th year anniversary of the Spanish Flu pandemic, it's more important now than ever that we look back at one of the deadliest pandemics the world has ever faced.
Our global village is tied together in such a way that it makes containing a localized infection nearly impossible. Through air, freight-train and onwards through land and sea, the most populous and densely packed cities in the world are now just a stone's throw away.
The possibility that another epidemic could sweep through the world and claim millions of lives is no surprise to the experts. After all, it's happened before.
History of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918
Let's look back at how the Spanish flu first got its start.
It was the fall of 1918 and the First Great War in Europe was just winding down. Americans had been shipped overseas and were helping assist the Allies as they fought against the Germans. Soldiers around the globe dug out and wintered through trenches in horrible and brutal conditions. They had probably thought they'd seen the worst of things by this point.
Lurking just somewhere over the horizon, however, was one of the deadliest flus the world would ever face.
Over a third of the world's population became infected. Erupting in pockets around the globe the outbreaks swept through Asia, Europe, Africa and America by bustling trade routes. Many also suspected rapid troop movement assisted in the spread of the disease. Around 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the two year pandemic.
The intensity and speed in which the pandemic struck was unfathomable at the time. With over 500 million people infected and an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide, the global death toll eclipsed even World War I casualties. The disease is not "Spanish" in origin per say, but because of wartime censorship in other countries, Spain was the first to report of the pandemic.
Our most recent flu seasons pale in comparison to the great plight wrought from the Spanish flu.
Latest trends in America’s flu seasons
For the most part, vaccinations, antibiotics and better global hygiene has drastically reduced the effects of influenza and other associated diseases. But viruses never rest — and they never stop evolving.
Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that a preliminary figure of last year's winter flu season was around 80,000 deaths. This figure may be revised, but it's unlikely the numbers will go down. Dr. Daniel Jernigan, a CDC flu expert, believes that the deaths were higher than usual because there are both more Americans and more elderly people now.
Luckily, Jernigan believes that next year's flu season is stacking up to be both a milder strain and also more receptive to vaccination. "We don't know what's going to happen," he said, "but we're seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year."
While we might be all right for the upcoming flu season. Others warn that a hidden virus could jumpstart a new global pandemic.
The U.S is not ready for a major pandemic
One of the worst case scenarios in the short term, could be the release of a hidden, lethal and highly infectious flu strain that breaks out into a crowded city. According to the John Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, this would be devastating for an unprepared city that lacked a strong public health infrastructure.
A fast moving virus could hitch a ride from one city to a next and spread internationally before health officials even knew what hit humanity. Scientists at John Hopkins believe that avian influenza viruses pose the greatest risk if they evolve into deadlier strains. Amesh Adalja from the Center of Healthy Security at John Hopkins states: "In terms of pandemic potential, an avian influenza virus is thought to be a likely candidate, based on prior pandemics."
Yet, there are safeguards that didn't exist 100 years ago we can use to preemptively ward off a potential flu pandemic.
For example we can:
- Improve vaccine research and deployment. Funding for high-priority vaccines is a must to create herd immunity.
- Increase pandemic preparation funding. Public health officials need to be able to deal with a multiple of infected at once.
- Create a global response network that can quickly intervene in a pandemic. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) needs a counterpart that can take action once any kind of pandemic has been declared.
The more we do to combat these diseases now, the less risk we have for another worldwide pandemic later.
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Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.
- Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
- With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
- The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Howard et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While this approach has wide implications for heritage management/museum display, its relevance conforms exactly to the ancient Egyptians' fundamental belief that 'to speak the name of the dead is to make them live again'," they wrote in a <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-56316-y#Fig3" target="_blank">paper</a> published in Nature Scientific Reports. "Given Nesyamun's stated desire to have his voice heard in the afterlife in order to live forever, the fulfilment of his beliefs through the synthesis of his vocal function allows us to make direct contact with ancient Egypt by listening to a sound from a vocal tract that has not been heard for over 3000 years, preserved through mummification and now restored through this new technique."</p>
Connecting modern people with history<p>It's not the first time scientists have "re-created" an ancient human's voice. In 2016, for example, Italian researchers used software to <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hear-recreated-voice-otzi-iceman-180960570/" target="_blank">reconstruct the voice of Ötzi,</a> an iceman who was discovered in 1991 and is thought to have died more than 5,000 years ago. But the "Voices of the Past" project is different, the researchers note, because Nesyamun's mummified corpse is especially well preserved.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was particularly suited, given its age and preservation [of its soft tissues], which is unusual," Howard told <em><a href="https://www.livescience.com/amp/ancient-egypt-mummy-voice-reconstructed.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>.</em></p><p>As to whether Nesyamun's reconstructed voice will ever be able to speak complete sentences, Howard told <em><a href="https://abcnews.go.com/Weird/wireStory/ancient-voice-scientists-recreate-sound-egyptian-mummy-68482015" target="_blank">The Associated Press</a>, </em>that it's "something that is being worked on, so it will be possible one day."</p><p>John Schofield, an archaeologist at the University of York, said that reproducing voices from history can make museum experiences "more multidimensional."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"There is nothing more personal than someone's voice," he told <em>The Associated Press.</em> "So we think that hearing a voice from so long ago will be an unforgettable experience, making heritage places like Karnak, Nesyamun's temple, come alive."</p>
Inequality in wealth, gender, and race grew to unprecedented levels across the world, according to OxFam report.
- A new report by global poverty nonprofit OxFam finds inequality has increased in every country in the world.
- The alarming trend is made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which strained most systems and governments.
- The gap in wealth, race and gender treatment will increase until governments step in with changes.
People wait in line to receive food at a food bank on April 28, 2020 in Brooklyn.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Credit: Oxfam International
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM