Pandemia 2.0: The Future of Pandemic Science

What's next for humanity after— or during— the COVID-19 pandemic?


By  Jenn Halweil & Skylar Walters, Interesting Engineering

Jul 14, 2021


Ring around the rosie,


Pockets full of posies,


Ashes, ashes


We all fall down


This common nursery rhyme is familiar to most children, sometimes with the lyrics switched changed slightly (in Britain, they say "achoo" instead of "ashes"). But this innocent song has a darker origin— some folklorists say it’s about the infamous Black Death, one of the most well-known plagues in history.


In the mid-1300s, word arose of a mysterious ailment in Central and Western Asia: patients were afflicted with blackish-bluish boils, swelling, and in serious cases, infection of the lungs and blood. The disease was unwittingly shipped to the Sicilian port of Messina in 1347, spreading the pestilence to millions more. Some estimates suggest that the plague, which we now know as Yersinia pestis, killed as much as one-third of Europe’s population.


Today, we are faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Disease outbreaks have been a constant throughout human history. Even with the evolution of our technology and knowledge — from antibiotics to vaccines to germ theory — humans can’t quite escape the grasp of pathogens. During the “Age of Exploration,” a period in the late 1400s and early 1700s, European nations brought devastation to the Native American populations in the form of smallpox, influenza, and measles, which infected millions and wiped out entire civilizations. By some estimates, as much as 90% of the Native American population were killed by various introduced diseases. In the 1980s, doctors in the United States began noticing rare lung infections and cancers in previously healthy men. The HIV/AIDS virus killed more than 34.7 million people around the world in the 1980s alone.


So, what’s next?


It may be premature to ask, especially considering much of the world is still deep in the trenches of COVID-19, but pathogens are all around us. In some scenarios, COVID-19 could even lead to our next pandemic.


Enter the fungus. Spoilers: He’s not such a fun guy...


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