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Shrinking world means increasing health threats

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Buffalo: Shrinking world means increasing health threats
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A perfect storm is brewing for a global health threat. The combination of people moving more easily around the globe, climate change and humans entering animal habitats more often, is a recipe for a pandemic. Katie Gibas reports.

A perfect storm is brewing for a global health threat.

"There is an inevitability that there will be a global pandemic. There hasn't been a huge global outbreak since the late sixties and typically they come every 20 to 30 years, so we're overdue," said Paul Emerson, PhD, of The Carter Center.

Paul Emerson is a Global Health expert at The Carter Center in Atlanta. He's studied diseases all over the world. He says the combination of people moving more easily around the globe, climate change and humans entering animal habitats more often, is a recipe for a pandemic.

"You end up with essentially a ticking time bomb of health and when the next the next pandemic comes, which is likely to be a flu-like virus, it will make Hurricane Katrina look like a damp weekend," said Emerson.

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed between 50 and 100 million people. The concern with a flu-like pandemic is it is easily spread because people are contagious at least 24 hours before they even show symptoms.

"Somebody with a variant flu that is potentially fatal can stand in front of the check in counter and look completely normal and well. Thirty-six hours later, they might be on a different continent and start having a fever. Three days later, seriously sick."

Experts say most emergency rooms and hospitals are almost always at capacity and therefore not able to handle a major outbreak. Emerson says the good news is that the Bird Flu and SARS scares were essentially trial runs for a major pandemic. Since no one can predict exactly when this pandemic will happen, experts say everyone needs to be prepared.

"That means public health preparedness within each country, which means having a system in place for mass vaccination, having a system in place for mass hospitalization. And then you need global monitoring to try to pick up any potentially lethal virus and nip them in the bud before they start jumping continents," said Emerson.

Basic hygiene, like hand and face washing, covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoiding sick people and staying home when you're sick, are all things individuals can do to protect themselves.

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