Are we ready for the next epidemic?

America Abroad
Workers in biohazard suits stand at the entry of a sealed-off poultry farm in Trumling, southern Germany, on Sep. 8, 2007. The H5N1 bird flu virus had been found in several ducks at a nearby poultry farm.

Workers in biohazard suits stand at the entry of a sealed-off poultry farm in Trumling, in southern Germany on Sept. 8, 2007. The H5N1 bird flu virus had been found in several ducks at a nearby poultry farm. 

Photo by Michael Dalder/Reuters

Epidemics of new infectious diseases seem to be occurring regularly. First there was SARS in 2003, then swine flu in 2009 and Ebola in 2014. Now, there’s Zika.

“The lesson of the last 10 years is that there’s always something else,” says Dr. Stephen Redd, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Health Preparedness and Response. “We can’t predict what the next infectious disease epidemic will be or when and where it will occur.”

Redd’s job comes with a heavy responsibility. It’s up to him to lead the CDC’s, and the world’s, preparations for the next epidemic. But not knowing what the next epidemic will be or when it will strike makes planning hard.