The Next Pandemic: On the Front Lines Against Humankind’s Gravest Dangers
As I write this, the news is all about Zika, a mosquito-borne virus newly introduced to the Americas that causes a mild fever in millions of cases, but also microcephaly, a severe birth defect that gives rise to abnormally small heads and brain damage. Multiple nations in South America have asked their families to delay pregnancies, and the United States has asked pregnant women to defer travel to the region. Americans are also on edge because of the risk of cases from local mosquitoes.
In Sierra Leone, Ebola virus has returned—likely from sex-
ual transmission—after a forty-two-day hiatus, which extends the span of the West Africa outbreak to more than two years.
Meanwhile, there are the usual myriad stories of bird lu outbreaks, food-borne illnesses, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
All of these epidemics and potential pandemics reinforced
my initial reason to write this book: to continue to share my perspectives from twenty-kve years in public health, to provide a context for all of these headlines, to help separate the hype from the facts, and to explain which diseases pose the greatest risks and why we will always be susceptible to rogue microbes. But my most important goal is to assert that not all epidemics and pandemics are inevitable; and that most are
preventable if we have the will, and if we back up that determination with the allocation of resources.
Despite my lifelong interest in infectious diseases, it was an investigation in a Congolese village, looking for Ebola patients with no resources, that changed my life and determined the course of my career. That early experience showed me that