Commentary: World Not Getting More Dangerous because of New Diseases
    2009-05-29 18:36:52     Xinhua      Web Editor: Zhang Jin
Though the impact of the A/H1N1 flu cannot as yet be compared with that of seasonal flu, caution has been sounded by experts including those from the World Health Organization (WHO) that the virus can continue to spread and result in another worldwide pandemic.

The fears are not ungrounded. According to the WHO, there were 13,398 confirmed cases across 48 countries as of 0600 GMT Wednesday, less than two months since it first broke out in early April. Hence the question: Is the world getting increasingly more dangerous in terms of public health?


In retrospect, the history of human civilization is also one of human beings being able to combat various diseases, and a closer look at history reveals that human beings are getting ever better at combating various diseases.

Epidemics, like natural disasters and wars, used to kill by the millions. For example, the two outbreaks of plague killed millions in Europe. At its worst, it killed thousands daily. Another notorious disease was smallpox, which caused constant fear among people.

Then came AIDS, the so called "disease of the century," which was first traced in the 1980s. And SARS. The virus appeared from nowhere six years ago, and then disappeared as mysteriously, only to warn people how suddenly a new virus can appear out of the blue and how much damage it can cause.

Human beings, however, have gained much experience in grappling with diseases. With various precautions and control techniques, human beings are gaining the upper hand.

For example, with development of the smallpox vaccine, the disease has virtually been eradicated.

In the current A/H1N1 outbreak, although the virus has been spreading quickly and widely, its gene has been decoded, and treatment and vaccines are under development.

All this indicates that with today's science and technology, almost all diseases are preventable, controllable and treatable, and tragedies like the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed about 40 million, will not happen again.

Therefore, despite the emergence of new diseases, their damage is getting less serious.


On the other hand, the development of science and technology can be a double-edged sword in the sense that it helps the quick transmission of a virus due to more advanced means of transportation.

Past epidemics, though causing great damage, were restricted to certain areas.

For example, plague which originated in central Arabia, killed one-third of the European population in the 14th century after being brought to Europe by ships. It was only confined to the continent of Europe. Smallpox, which occurred a century later, killed thousands of American Indians, but was confined to the American continent.

Today, however, modern transportation has accelerated the spread of diseases. According to the WHO, three months after the first confirmed case of SARS was reported in February 2003, it had spread to 30 countries and regions in five continents.

International flights, trains, cars and buses are all carriers of diseases. Today, a contagious disease appearing on one side of the world can be transmitted to another within a day by travelers.

However, thanks to the Internet information about a certain certain disease is rapid.

The information helps familiarize the general public with the situation, although there is a drawback it could also cause unnecessary fear and panic due to the overflow of unauthorized information or even rumors.

It should be pointed, however, although modern means of transportation increases the difficulty of epidemic control, it also enhances the human race's capacity to coordinate anti-epidemic campaigns by transporting medical personnel, materials and resources to where they are most needed in the shortest time possible.

Likewise, modern communication and publications help prepare the public and coordinates global anti-epidemic campaigns. More importantly, human beings can share information on disease control, share medical resources and jointly develop new medicines and treatments.

Amid the backdrop of globalization, epidemics go global. But more importantly, the human race's capacity for sharing medical resources and developing new drugs is enhanced and the network to jointly tackle diseases becomes global as well.


The invention of the flush toilet was lauded as the greatest invention of the human race in the 20th century, as it not only solved an important human issue, but more importantly, the drain pipe system connected to toilets constituted an important part of the public hygiene system, which ensured the cleanness of drinking water.

After thousands of years, the human race has developed a whole set of "weapons" against diseases, which not only include various public hygiene systems, but more importantly, more advanced modern medical systems consisting of innumerable new drugs, treatments and diagnostic facilities.

What is more, research on genome has helped raise the human race's battle against diseases to a level.

Take the current A/H1N1 flu as an example. On April 24, the WHO first confirmed the outbreak of the virus in Mexico, and a week later, its code was detected and vaccines can now be expected within two or three months.

Though it is difficult to directly compare the virulence of this new strain of flu with that of Spanish flu, we can be certain that experiences accumulated over hundreds of years have put us in a good position to control and cure it.

It is true that today we have more diseases compared to the past, but new dangerous diseases like AIDS and SARS are rare.

The reason we have more diseases today is because of more specific categorization, and because people are living longer, more diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular are being reported.

The human race has always lived with the threat of diseases. However, in today's world, with increasingly advanced science and medicines, there is no need to panic, even in the face of an unknown disease. The world is not getting more dangerous, at least not more dangerous due to certain diseases.

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