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Concern about possible future pandemics
Viral hemorrhagic fevers

Some Viral Hemorrhagic Fever causing agents like Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Marburg virus, Ebola virus and Bolivian hemorrhagic fever are highly contagious and deadly diseases, with the theoretical potential to become pandemics. Their ability to spread efficiently enough to cause a pandemic is limited, however, as transmission of these viruses requires close contact with the infected vector, and the vector only has a short time before death or serious illness. Furthermore, the short time between a vector becoming infectious and the onset of symptoms allows medical professionals to quickly quarantine vectors, and prevent them from carrying the pathogen elsewhere. Genetic mutations could occur, which could elevate their potential for causing widespread harm; thus close observation by contagious disease specialists is merited.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, sometimes referred to as "superbugs", may contribute to the re-emergence of diseases which are currently well-controlled. For example, cases of tuberculosis that are resistant to traditionally effective treatments remain a cause of great concern to health professionals. Every year, nearly half a million new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) are estimated to occur worldwide. After India, China has the highest rate of multidrug-resistant TB. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approximately 50 million people worldwide are infected with MDR TB, with 79 percent of those cases resistant to three or more antibiotics. In 2005, 124 cases of MDR TB were reported in the United States. Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB) was identified in Africa in 2006, and subsequently discovered to exist in 49 countries, including the United States. About 40,000 new cases of XDR-TB emerge every year, the WHO estimates.

The plague bacterium Yersinia pestis could develop drug-resistance and become a major health threat. Plague epidemics have occurred throughout human history, causing over 200 million deaths worldwide. The ability to resist many of the antibiotics used against plague has been found so far in only a single case of the disease in Madagascar.

In the past 20 years, common bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Serratia marcescens and Enterococcus, have developed resistance to various antibiotics such as vancomycin, as well as whole classes of antibiotics, such as the aminoglycosides and cephalosporins. Antibiotic-resistant organisms have become an important cause of healthcare-associated (nosocomial) infections (HAI). In addition, infections caused by community-acquired strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in otherwise healthy individuals have become more frequent in recent years.

Inappropriate antibiotic treatment and overuse of antibiotics have been a contributing factor to the emergence of resistant bacteria. The problem is further exacerbated by self-prescribing of antibiotics by individuals without the guidelines of a qualified clinician and the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics as growth promoters in agriculture.


In 2003, there were concerns that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a new and highly contagious form of atypical pneumonia, might become pandemic. It is caused by a coronavirus dubbed SARS-CoV. Rapid action by national and international health authorities such as the World Health Organization helped to slow transmission and eventually broke the chain of transmission. That ended the localized epidemics before they could become a pandemic. However, the disease has not been eradicated. It could re-emerge. This warrants monitoring and reporting of suspicious cases of atypical pneumonia.


Wild aquatic birds are the natural hosts for a range of influenza A viruses. Occasionally, viruses are transmitted from these species to other species,and may then cause outbreaks in domestic poultry or (rarely) give rise to a human pandemic.

H5N1 (Avian Flu)

In February 2004, avian influenza virus was detected in birds in Vietnam, increasing fears of the emergence of new variant strains. It is feared that if the avian influenza virus combines with a human influenza virus (in a bird or a human), the new subtype created could be both highly contagious and highly lethal in humans. Such a subtype could cause a global influenza pandemic, similar to the Spanish Flu,or the lower mortality pandemics such as the Asian Flu and the Hong Kong Flu.

From October 2004 to February 2005, some 3,700 test kits of the 1957 Asian Flu virus were accidentally spread around the world from a lab in the US.

In May 2005, scientists urgently call nations to prepare for a global influenza pandemic that could s trike as much as 20% of the world's population.

In October 2005, cases of the avian flu (the deadly strain H5N1) were identified in Turkey. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said: "We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus. There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China." Cases of bird flu were also identified shortly thereafter in Romania, and then Greece. Possible cases of the virus have also been found in Croatia, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom.

By November 2007, numerous confirmed cases of the H5N1 strain had been identified across Europe . However, by the end of October only 59 people had died as a result of H5N1 which was atypical of previous influenza pandemics.

Avian flu cannot yet be categorized as a "pandemic", because the virus cannot yet cause sustained and efficient human-to-human transmission. Cases so far are recognized to have been transmitted from bird to human, but as of December 2006 there have been very few (if any) cases of proven human-to-human transmission. Regular influenza viruses establish infection by attaching to receptors in the throat and lungs, but the avian influenza virus can only attach to receptors located deep in the lungs of humans, requiring close, prolonged contact with infected patients, and thus limiting person-to-person transmission.

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