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Environment

Pandemic Chatter

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I'm not on the pandemic beat, but some of the best science journalists are, and they are busy these days. Today, David Quammen, author of the recently published and critically acclaimed book, Spillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic, has an op-ed in the New York Times. It begins:

Terrible new forms of infectious disease make headlines, but not at the start. Every pandemic begins small. Early indicators can be subtle and ambiguous. When the Next Big One arrives, spreading across oceans and continents like the sweep of nightfall, causing illness and fear, killing thousands or maybe millions of people, it will be signaled first by quiet, puzzling reports from faraway places — reports to which disease scientists and public health officials, but few of the rest of us, pay close attention. Such reports have been coming in recent months from two countries, China and Saudi Arabia.

The worrisome Chinese bird flu strain that has gotten a lot of attention is not, in its present form, going to cause a pandemic, says Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control (CDC). But if you want to learn about the potential for its lethal mutation, and why you should be worried about it, read this piece in Foreign Policy by veteran science journalist Laurie Garrett. As Peter Singer tweeted:

No one reports (possible) pandemics like @laurie_garrett: Is a Pandemic Being Born? foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/… — Peter Singer (@PeterASinger) April 2, 2013

Meanwhile, if any of the latest scares "fail to explode into a large-scale pandemic," Tom Paulson wonders, "will the public — and policy makers — be better prepared or somehow inoculated against taking the threat seriously in the future?" The preparedness concern was recently addressed in an important New York Timescolumn by Tyler Cowen, who wrote about the need to reward medical research (as a "public good") for new pandemic fighting drugs and vaccines. Finally, for everything you needed or wanted to know about pandemics, David Dobbs compiled a great one-stop shop at Slate, and Maryn McKenna, Dobbs' colleague at Wired Science blogs, has a most helpful guide on how to follow pandemic-related news. Of course, if you just want to kick back for a few hours and watch a pandemic wreak civilizational havoc, there's always Hollywood.

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