Nobel laureate plays down flu pandemic scaremongering

May 21, 2013

A Nobel prize-winning scientist Tuesday played down "shock-horror scenarios" that a new virus strain will emerge with the potential to kill millions of people.

Peter Doherty, who jointly won the in 1996 for his work on how the immune system combats virus-infected cells, said the worst-case scenario was a with a high mortality rate that was also highly infectious.

The Australian said the world experienced such a pandemic in 1918, when an influenza variant killed an estimated 50 million people, more than twice the number who died in World War I.

Doherty said it was possible such an outbreak could occur again but it was unlikely to have such devastating consequences.

"A lot of the (1918) deaths were undoubtedly due to secondary bacterial infection and, of course, we have antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infection now," he said at a lecture at Otago University's Wellington campus.

"In the pandemic world we all look to these shock-horror scenarios—it makes good television, there's a lot of books about these terrible infections that are going to kill us all off.

"It makes a good book, it makes it terribly scary (but) I actually think that we'll do a lot better than that with most pandemics."

Doherty said analysis of the (SARS) virus, a form of influenza which killed about 800 people, took three months when it emerged a decade ago.

The University of Melbourne-based scientist said similar work would now take just days.

"We're doing extremely well with virus diagnosis, and all sorts of things like that, much better than in the past, so I don't think a pandemic is going to kill us all off," he said.

Doherty said the H1N1 "" which sickened millions around the world in 2009 was an example of an highly infectious strain with a relatively low mortality rate, with some 18,500 deaths reported to the (WHO).

Another strain, H7N9, emerged in China in March and has a high mortality rate of 36 deaths from 130 cases, according to official data. But there is no evidence it can be transmitted from human to human.

The WHO has also since last September confirmed 40 cases of a coronavirus closely related to SARS. It has caused 20 deaths, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

Explore further: Three new cases of SARS-like virus in Saudi Arabia

Related Stories

Three new cases of SARS-like virus in Saudi Arabia

May 3, 2013
Three new cases of a new SARS-like virus have been detected in Saudi Arabia, the World Health Organisation reported Friday.

WHO revises up death toll from SARS-like virus

May 14, 2013
The World Health Organization on Tuesday revised up the death toll from the SARS-like coronavirus from 18 to 20 worldwide, but said the two additional fatalities in Saudi Arabia were old cases.

SARS-like virus claims new life in Saudi

May 20, 2013
A Saudi man who had contracted the coronavirus has died, raising the death toll in the kingdom from the SARS-like virus to 16, the health ministry announced on Monday on its Internet website.

SARS-like virus kills two more in Saudi

May 6, 2013
A new SARS-like virus has killed two more people in Saudi Arabia, taking the number of deaths from the coronavirus that the kingdom has announced to seven in one week, the health ministry said.

US health leader warns of human-to-human H7N9 bird flu

April 28, 2013
There is no evidence that the deadly H7N9 bird flu has yet spread between humans in China but health authorities must be ready for the virus to mutate at any time, a top US virologist has warned.

Impossible to predict outcome in China's bird flu outbreak, WHO says

May 20, 2013
It is impossible to predict the evolution of China's human H7N9 bird flu outbreak as researchers are still trying to understand the source of human transmission, the head of the World Health Organisation said Monday.

Recommended for you

Novel approach to track HIV infection

August 18, 2017
Northwestern Medicine scientists have developed a novel method of tracking HIV infection, allowing the behavior of individual virions—infectious particles—to be connected to infectivity.

Faulty gene linked to obesity in adults

August 18, 2017
Groundbreaking new research linking obesity and metabolic dysfunction to a problem in the energy generators in cells has been published by researchers from the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and The University ...

Two lung diseases killed 3.6 million in 2015: study

August 17, 2017
The two most common chronic lung diseases claimed 3.6 million lives worldwide in 2015, according to a tally published Thursday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

New test differentiates between Lyme disease, similar illness

August 16, 2017
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. But it can be confused with similar conditions, including Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. A team of researchers led by Colorado ...

Addressing superbug resistance with phage therapy

August 16, 2017
International research involving a Monash biologist shows that bacteriophage therapy – a process whereby bacterial viruses attack and destroy specific strains of bacteria - can be used successfully to treat systemic, multidrug ...

Can previous exposure to west Nile alter the course of Zika?

August 15, 2017
West Nile virus is no stranger to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of people in the region have contracted the mosquito-borne virus in the past. But could this previous exposure affect how intensely Zika sickens someone ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.