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Vigilance Over Disease Outbreaks Must Continue, Opinion Pieces, Editorial State

The following summarize an editorial and opinion pieces on recent disease outbreaks, including H7N9 avian flu in China and a novel coronavirus in Saudi Arabia, and the global public health response.

  • Washington Post: The outbreak of a new bird flu strain in China, known as H7N9, “has not reached U.S. shores, but it is a reminder of the unpredictable nature of influenza,” the editorial states. “The uncertainty ought to remind us of past lessons about infectious disease and globalization, which remain as urgent as ever,” the editorial continues, adding, “One of those lessons is the vital role of rapid communication about an emerging outbreak.” Noting China’s failure to report early cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, as the virus spread a decade ago, the editorial says, “This time, China has reacted differently.” The editorial continues, “The critical tripwire that could lead to a pandemic would be sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus. Until now, there have been small clusters of people infected but not sustained transmission.” But “[g]erms do not stop at passport control. … Bird flu is everyone’s problem, and we can only hope that China continues to fight it effectively and with transparency,” the editorial concludes (5/8).
  • Michael Osterholm, New York Times: Noting the news of H7N9 avian flu and novel coronavirus outbreaks in China and Saudi Arabia, respectively, Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, writes, “While the number of human cases from these two pathogens has so far been limited, the death rates for each are notably high.” But, “[a]larmingly, we face a third, and far more widespread, ailment that has gotten little attention: call it ‘contagion exhaustion,'” Osterholm states, noting coverage of many new and emerging diseases over the years. While “the number of infected people is small, and the infections are occurring thousands of miles away from the United States … we should be seriously concerned about both,” he says, because diseases like H7N9 and coronaviruses “can kill large numbers of people quickly and simultaneously around the world” and “[o]ur public health tools to fight these viruses are limited.” He adds, “The world as whole must invest in a new generation of effective influenza and coronavirus vaccines” (5/9).
  • David Quammen, New York Times: Also noting the news of H7N9 avian flu and novel coronavirus outbreaks, Quammen, an author and National Geographic contributing writer, states, “Every new disease outbreak starts as a mystery, and among the first things to be solved is the question of source.” He adds, “In most cases, the answer is wildlife,” and discusses how the source of the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus was bats, also being investigated as a source for novel coronavirus. “One emergent virus, sooner or later, will be the Next Big One. It may show up first in China, in Congo or Bangladesh, or maybe on the Arabian Peninsula; but it will globalize,” he writes, concluding, “We can’t detach ourselves from emerging pathogens either by distance or lack of interest. The planet is too small” (5/9).