Professor Ian Goodfellow says the world is on the cusp of another new pandemic that will be ‘much more deadly’ than the Black Death
The next global influenza pandemic could be more deadly than the Black Death. In an extraordinary warning, scientist Professor Ian Goodfellow said the world is now closer to the next pandemic than at any time since the arrival of the first “crow-infested plague in Britain”.
Prof Goodfellow – who is one of only a handful of people with a human vaccine against the deadly flu virus – said the world was on the cusp of another new pandemic that would be “much more deadly” than the Black Death.
The “scary thing” he said is that the likelihood of an outbreak was increasing and could not be ruled out.
It takes just one type of influenza virus to “cause a pandemic”, he said.
The infamous 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic killed anywhere between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, although exact figures are not known.
Prof Goodfellow said the world’s population of 2.4 billion people was already larger than any that could be affected by a pandemic.
“In this perfect world, how do you prevent a pandemic?” he said. “I tell you there’s probably two answer that can’t be given.
“In the 21st century – in this perfect world – if we have a pandemic it will be a simpler affair. It will be easier to stop it happening. But if we had the avian influenza, for example, which is breeding in the wild in the south of China right now – we know from a historical viewpoint – that one will cause more disease. It’s a question of who’s going to be lucky or unlucky in the infection. And it depends on the type of animal you live with.”
Prof Goodfellow said the likelihood of such a new epidemic was increasing every year, particularly with the global strain of the flu virus that is ongoing.
“It has a very strong likelihood of coming back, particularly because this deadly strain – which causes Hong Kong flu – tends to arise from birds,” he said.
“If it hadn’t been so persistent, we would never know about it.”
Prof Goodfellow said he had developed a medicine that could be used to stop the emerging pandemic strain developing in the human population.
The disease, known as a type of influenza A H3N2, is a lethal, strain of influenza that can be transmitted between people.
The Pandemic H3N2 vaccine, which is believed to have killed the first cases in humans, is meant to protect people against a flu strain that emerges.
“We will still have an improvement if we had a bird flu strain because the type A H3N2 virus will be spread to humans,” Prof Goodfellow said.
“And when you’ve got a massive influx, they’re the people who will get infected. But I still think that’s unlikely, because this is very intense flu, it’s a very deadly strain that’s killing people.”
This, coupled with uncertainty about the success of human vaccines, meant a pandemic could happen, Prof Goodfellow said.
“It is absolutely certain that we will get another pandemic in this century,” he said. “What we don’t know is whether it will come from birds, or whether it will come from nature.”