Book warns that deadly pandemic may not be far off

The Takeaway

Story by The Takeaway. Listen to audio above for full report.

If you’ve watched the movie Contagion and taken comfort in the fact that it’s just a movie, there’s a new book that may take away those warm feelings of safety.

Nathan Wolfe, a professor of biology at Stanford University and the author of the new book “The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age,” says that with our interconnected world, it’s just a matter of time before a dangerous pandemic races around the globe. He says Contagion isn’t at all far fetched and his new book is a warning of sorts to that effect.

“Any one of these sort of fictional presentations is just going to be one scenario,” Wolfe said. “But, by all means, at some point, maybe in one year, maybe in five years, we will be experiencing global pandemics that don’t look all that dissimilar from what we saw in Contagion.”

Wolfe, who’s often referred to as the Indiana Jones of viruses, says that it was incredibly good fortune that H1N1, which he said infected almost 10 percent of the human population, wasn’t any more deadly. If that had happened, we could have had a massive, deadly pandemic.

Unfortunately dodging the bullet with H1N1 the last go-round doesn’t mean we’re in the clear.

“These viruses are constantly shuffling up their genes and making new variance and each one of these variances has different capacity to spread,” he explained.

Wolfe says the best defense against deadly diseases is early detection.

“The earlier we catch these pandemics, the more lives we can save.”


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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