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Are Massive Global Pandemics Still Possible?


Segment Description: Jason Gallagher, PharmD, FCCP, FIDSA, BCPS, clinical professor at Temple University College of Pharmacy and editor-in-chief of Contagion®, discusses changes in public health and society since the early 20th century in response to speculation about whether large-scale global pandemics are still possible in the 21st century.

Interview Transcript (modified slightly for readability):

Contagion: People often speculate about whether large-scale global pandemics like Spanish flu are still possible. What are the chances of a large-scale global pandemic in the 21st century?

Gallagher: So, as you alluded to, in the early 20th century we obviously had the Spanish flu epidemic. If you follow average life expectancy in the US over the past century, you can see this sharp dip occur in the late 1910s. And, it's a common question, could that happen again?

And I'm not psychic. I don't know that I can say the answer to that one because I have no idea what it is. But I can say that things have changed since then, one of which is that obviously public health is much better. We also have antibiotics, which I'm aware do nothing for influenza, but people who have post influenza pneumonia made up a portion of those deaths way back then.

But we also have air travel and a society that moves around much more quickly and easily than it used to, sometimes in contained spaces. So certainly, an outbreak of a easily spread virus could spread more quickly than in the past. It’s basically fate that something else will come by I think. I think we will be more prepared than we have been before. But who knows what or when that will be?
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