Lessons from H1N1: Anticipate new pathogens
So far, the H1N1 virus did not become the pandemic that some feared it would be. Its deadliness was not much more than that of the common flu, and most of those who died from it were people with weakened immune systems. That however is no reason for complacency.
The underlying facts are that new forms of viruses and bacteria evolve and will continue to evolve. This is not only likely; this is inevitable. And while most of these will be harmless or minimally dangerous, there is a strong probability of something truly bad developing.
It took the medical world over a decade to do anything effective about AIDS. In the meanwhile, millions of people died and more still continue to die. AIDS is not as easy to transmit as H1N1, and H1N1 is not as deadly as AIDS. But if something were to form that would be as deadly as AIDS and as transmissible as H1N1, we would have on our hands an apocalyptic scenario.
There must be a strong international effort to anticipate such threats before they occur. The extent to which this effort is private or public is mostly of interest to ideologues on both sides. What is of vital significance is that such an effort take place and be effective.
H1N1 should be seen by the world as a wake-up call. There are, and there will be, new pathogens, some of them with capacity to be dangerous in the extreme. We got lucky this time, as the pandemic that was feared did not realize. But in matters of the survival of humanity, it is not enough to rely on luck.