Pandemic periodicity

We have written before about the question of how often we should expect pandemics — the simple model we applied then was this: is Covid-19 an example of a Spanish flu like event and so likely 1/100 years or should we consider it a sars-virus spill over event, of which we roughly have 1/10 year events (and then saying that perhaps the severity of such spillovers is distributed roughly as we have seen so far so that we get a 1/30 years or 1/40 years frequency of a Covid-sized pandemic.

Now, a couple of scientists have looked at the patterns and evidence and they are suggesting that although the Spanish flu was a 1/400 year event, a Covid-sized pandemic might well be a 1/59 years event. So another 60 years and we may very well have another.

That means that anyone below the age of 20 is likely to experience another pandemic in their lifetimes.

This could, of course, be recency and availability bias – but it does seem likely knowing not only the changing demographics but also the change in spillover patterns. More people in cities, aging populations, animal reservoirs moving closer to people as forests decline — together these factors could easily be modeled to lead to an increasing incidence.

If we also add antibiotic resistance the pool of eligible pathogens expands radically, and so this makes pandemics an issue that might deserve a lot more attention even as we scale back restrictions. It will be interesting to see if we manage to really mobilize efforts here or if we will consider the pandemic just “bad weather and bad luck” and then proceed to promptly forget it.

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