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Next major pandemic will hit ‘by 2080 at the latest’

Researchers predict that younger generation will face another disease outbreak on similar scale to Covid-19

A global pandemic comparable to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis is likely to occur by 2080 - and possibly far sooner, a newly published analysis suggests.

The study “looked at the scale and frequency of disease outbreaks going back to 1600, including plague, smallpox, cholera, typhus and novel influenza viruses”, reported The Telegraph. The research uncovered patterns that suggest the next pandemic will occur within the next 59 years - which means “anyone under 24 will almost certainly have to live through another huge health disaster”, the newspaper continued.

And the rate at which such outbreaks appear “is speeding up, meaning that the probability of living through one is growing”. 

“When a 100-year flood occurs today, one may erroneously presume that one can afford to wait another 100 years before experiencing another such event,” said study co-author professor Gabriel Katul, a professor of hydrology and micrometeorology at Duke University in North Carolina.

“This impression is false. One can get another 100-year flood the next year.”

Indeed, "in the last 50 years, we’ve seen increasing levels of new pathogens spreading through humans”, said ScienceAlert. "Sars-CoV-2 is the most obvious example, but even in the last few decades we’ve had swine flu, bird flu, Ebola, and many, many more.”

The new study suggests that the risk of outbreaks has been increased by “population growth, changes in food systems, environmental degradation and more frequent contact between humans and disease-harbouring animals”, The Telegraph added.

The team of US and Italian researchers write that “together with recent estimates of increasing rates of disease emergence from animal reservoirs associated with environmental change, this finding suggests a high probability of observing pandemics similar to Covid-19 (probability of experiencing it in one's lifetime currently about 38%), which may double in coming decades”.

Their research findings - published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal - also indicate that a pandemic capable of eliminating all human life is likely to occur within the next 12,000 years.

But on the bright side, “if we play our cards right, our response and resources for Covid-19 can prepare us” for the next outbreak, according to ScienceAlert.

“The most important takeaway is that large pandemics like Covid-19 and the Spanish flu are relatively likely,” said study co-author Dr William Pan, associate professor of global environmental health at Duke.

“This points to the importance of early response to disease outbreaks and building capacity for pandemic surveillance at the local and global scales, as well as for setting a research agenda for understanding why large outbreaks are becoming more common.

“Understanding that pandemics aren’t so rare should raise the priority of efforts to prevent and control them in the future.”

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