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Charlotte Talks: Are We Ready For A Pandemic?


Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020

The National Academy of Medicine predicts future pandemics could kill millions and cost trillions. Some worry it’s just a matter of time.

Perhaps history's most infamous pandemic was the Bubonic Plague – it ravaged 14th century Europe and killed an estimated 25 million people, about one third of Europe’s population.

Of course, modern medicine has made significant progress: Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980, and measles was virtually eliminated from the United States in 2000.

Once the second polio vaccine proved successful, Nobel-Prize winning virologist Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet claimed, “to write about infectious diseases is almost to write of something that has passed into history.” This was, perhaps, presumptuous.

The flu, for example results in 3–5 million “severe cases” annually, with hundreds of thousands of deaths as a result. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa resulted in over 11,000 deaths, and at the time of publication, the coronavirus has currently infected over 7,000 people in China and killed at least 170.

Still, fears of apocalyptic plagues may be unwarranted. Everyday risks are statistically more dangerous: over a million people die annually in traffic accidents, and hundreds of thousands are murdered globally. The World Health Organization says over 400,000 people died from malaria in 2018 and over 500,000 children died of diahrreal disease in 2017.

Is the only pandemic we have to fear, fear itself? Our panel discusses the anxieties and realities of a global pandemic.


Dr. Katie Passaretti, Medical Director of Infection Prevention at Carolinas Medical Center

Dr. Daniel Janies, Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics at UNC Charlotte

Jesse Steinmetz is Producer of Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Before joining WFAE in 2019, he was an intern at WNPR in Hartford, Connecticut and hosted a show at Eastern Connecticut State University.