Do we now live in a new reality where pandemics are more common?

Now that we have a world population of nearly 8 billion and the world is highly globalized, with more air travel than ever, I am wondering if we are just living on borrowed time. Like some critical mass of population and connectivity has been reached.

Do you think this situation is something that inevitably will create covid like pandemics at a regular interval? Will we have to change our behavior permantly, or do you think the world will go back to something resembling how it was?

Ask again in 10 years or so. The last big pandemic was a century before this one; we really don’t have any idea what the new frequency might be.

There’s almost certainly a higher pandemic risk with increased international travel and a larger human population.

Well, no. SARS, MERS, H1N1, H2N2, H3N2 all hit in the last 60 years or so. These were all big, just not as bit as COVID. Some of those ran worldwide and overloaded healthcare systems. SARS was a serious threat and could have been worse if public health measures hadn’t contained it mostly on the Pacific Rim.

It seems reasonable, rough estimate, that these new viruses are popping out every 5-10 years. We’re only escaping calamity with a combination of luck and good policy. Our luck seems to be running out, and the public seems to be allergic to sound public health policy.

And there’s a big huge spot of randomness about this. It’s all due to the randomness of genetic mutation, and humanity’s intersections with it, and our choices in trying to confront it. There’s no reason next year couldn’t bring a COVID-22A and COVID-22B, and a FLU-22 simultaneously.

No, the last pandemic that people called big was a century ago. But you’re forgetting about all the measles pandemics, and mumps pandemics, and all the assorted pox pandemics, and so on, many of which were far worse than COVID. The fact that a disease as relatively mild as COVID-19 is considered a big deal is, in itself, a testament to how far we’ve come in the war against “the common enemy of all mankind”.

I certainly believe that we live in a new reality where covid-19 is here to stay. And unlike influenza, which to my non doctor’s eyes appears to pop up in waves on a yearly basis, this covid-19 just lingers year round. Too many of us (humanity as a whole, now) simply ignore or otherwise refuse to do the things necessary to knock out the spread.
Think of it like this: Last flu season, due to the safety precautions many of us now take, the flu was practically nonexistent. But covid-19 raged on.

There have always been pandemics:

Yes, it’s easier and faster to travel around the world now, but there has always been a lot of world travel. It was slow, but there wasn’t much attempt to block it during pandemics. Of course, what was considered “the world” was different then. Until 1492, the inhabitants of Africa, Asia, and Europe thought of themselves as being the only parts of the world that were inhabited. It’s easier to block travel now because communication is so much faster. Look at the list of deaths in those pandemics and be sure to divide by the world population at the time to see how much of the population was killed.

In the past year, the US has had 576,000 deaths from COVID, out of a national population of approximately 331 million.

What measles and mumps pandemics have had that fatality rate in one year in the past century?

There you go asking for facts again and do you expect a response? :woman_facepalming:t2:

Better yet, what about smoking? There are only 480,000 deaths per year attributted to smoking, shouldn’t we stop encourging people not to smoke since Covid-19 is actually killing more? Can’t we do more than just take action on a single issue without pitting them against each other?

What baffles me is why a Covid-like pandemic only happens once a generation. At any given moment, there must be people somewhere in the world touching animals they shouldn’t, like bats or pangolins. Why isn’t there a Covid once every few months?

It takes a somewhat rare mutation for a virus to not only jump the species barrier, but to then become contagious in that species. The more humans interact with wild animals, the more chances this has to happen, but in any particular interaction, the chances are quite small.

There are probably a number of more minor diseases that also jump species, and no one other than academic researchers knows or cares, as they don’t pose the same sort of health risk.

But to respond to your first question last, this wasn’t the first Covid-like disease this generation, or even this decade. This is just the first that was this dangerous that was not contained and became a pandemic. That was more due to political issues than the nature of the disease itself.

even if we are, we have more tools to fight them than ever before.

Also a disease has to be both easily transmitted as well as very deadly to be a pandemic. most diseases are only one or the other, and most that are both are mostly under control with public safety measures (vaccines, pest control, water and sewer treatment).

Eh, it’s an arms race.

The problem is, is that the diseases are always improving their ability to infect us, and we only improve our ability to resist when we find it profitable.

Which is why we don’t have typhoid outbreaks anymore. We certainly have decreased the vectors for some of the diseases that have plagued humanity for most of its history, but that just means that the diseases that can use the vectors still available fill that niche.

Sure, but virus strains such as these have appeared throughout human history. The big boys, like bubonic plague, get their name in infamy, but that doesn’t mean that things like flu strains weren’t regularly popping up too.

I’m not suggesting that we should be complacent, merely that the data does not yet support the hypothesis that this is becoming more common.

In this context, an animal we shouldn’t touch is any mammal. Because pigs, sheep, dogs, cows, horses etc have, and, even now continue to, pass infections to humans. Including pandemics.
I would agree though, that hunting bats, or gathering anything in caves, is especially risky, such that I’d support an international ban and strong enforcement (though carrots may work better than sticks).

Just suggesting that we not look down on such people as irresponsible savages. Not suggesting you were, just making a point.

You might be right. On the other hand, I think it’s optimistic-but-realistic to hope that the vaccines that have been (or will be) developed will turn out to render Covid-19 a non-issue, at least for those who don’t refuse to be vaccinated.

As for whether pandemics will be more common in the future, it’s anybody’s guess. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were not.

Measles has a mortality rate of somewhere between 1 and 3 per 1000 cases, and before vaccination, an incidence of nearly 100%. COVID-19 has a mortality rate of less than 1%, and an incidence so far of around 2% of the population. By my count, that makes measles about five times worse than COVID, using the most conservative numbers.

COVID-19 has had more deaths this year than measles ever had in one year, but that’s only because it’s so new. We started off with the entire population, across all age cohorts, being susceptible to the virus, while only children were susceptible to measles, because everyone else had already had it. If COVID were to stick around for a century, then it wouldn’t look anywhere remotely close to measles. And surely, COVID sticking around for a century would be a dire situation indeed, wouldn’t it?

Correct, but what’s different now is the frequency of human mobility and human encroachment on habitats.

I’m sure in the year 1000 AD there were highly-transmissible flu and coronaviruses popping up in animal populations very commonly. But it mattered less because there were fewer humans, fewer habitat overlap, and no high-speed international travel.

We need to plan as if one of these could pop up any year. There could be a COVID-21. Nothing’s preventing it except human diligence, which recent events have proven to be less than reliable.

Sure, but what I was arguing against was your prior point that because we can list off viruses from recent history, that’s evidence that they’re becoming more common. But in fact, as patchy as the history of disease is, epidemics have been common since humans settled down and domesticated animals. So we’d need to see some specific evidence of them becoming more common.

If we’re talking about our own speculation, then yes, of course I would expect that with 8 billion of us on the planet, and cheap international travel that pandemics have the opportunity to spread further, faster.

However, on the question of whether they are becoming more frequent, I’d still say I wasn’t sure. As I mentioned upthread, many mammals have passed viruses and other pathogens to humans throughout our history. The peak of our susceptibility may have been when we were rubbing up against many species at the same time, not the current situation where we’re already resistant to most of the viruses carried by most of the animals that we interact with.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging how well many Asian countries handled covid. They had already had their fingers burnt by SARS so were well prepared this time. Next time, when the virus may well be nastier, hopefully the whole world is similarly alert, with the added bonus of extremely fast vaccine pipelines.

On the other hand, many in the US are still politicizing masks and vaccines, which is absolutely disgusting, and probably means any future virus can always find a reservoir in a shining “city on a hill”.

That wasn’t my point. I have no cause to believe that human-transmissible viruses are emerging from animal reservoirs more frequently or less frequently. My point is that this natural phenomenon is happening continuously, but the frequency of human-animal interactions, plus high-density megacities, plus high-speed intercontinental travel, are increasing the likelihood that humans will contract those diseases.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve had so many actual and near-miss pandemics in the latter half of the 20th century, I think it’s due to the factors I described, and I think those factors will continue to drive higher risk. But though the risk of human exposure is increased by certain human behaviors, the big point to drive home is that they emerge randomly. The next pandemic might be 10 years out, or it might be 10 weeks out. That’s what I tell people every chance I get.

I think the thing that really killed us with Covid, was how variable the symptoms were. It was a disease that was very contagious and deadly but only in a subset of the people who got it. Some carriers were entirely symptom free, so there was no really good way to isolate those with the disease, and keep it from spreading.

yeah. we honestly got lucky. in theory couldn’t a coronavirus be as contagious as SARS-cov2 but as deadly as MERS or SARS-cov1?

MERS and SARS 1 had around a 20% mortality rate, but they weren’t contagious until you have symptoms.