World Economic Forum: Flu, superbugs next big pandemic threats

Amid news that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa may be tapering off, global security leaders at this year's World Economic Forum say influenza and drug-resistant superbugs could easily trigger the next major pandemic, Reuters reported.

"The whole world needs a new early-warning system for these diseases," Alpha Conde, the president of Ebola-ravaged Guinea, said at the forum.

If the Ebola crisis has taught the world anything, it's that viruses do not respect borders, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan said, according to Reuters. As a result, public health policies must "transcend politics and borders," Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot, M.D., told the BBC before addressing the forum about the subject.

WHO was widely criticized for its often slow and uncoordinated response to the Ebola outbreak, one of the reasons its executive board unanimously passed a resolution Sunday to overhaul its response to public health emergencies, the New York Times reported. As part of the resolution, WHO plans to: create a global cadre of emergency public health workers; establish a fund that officials could tap quickly; and increase support for the development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for emerging infectious diseases. 

But it's not just up to policymakers and public health organizations to prevent and prepare for outbreaks: Healthcare providers can play a critical role in pandemic readiness, FierceHealthcare has reported.

For starters, healthcare organizations must double down on their infection-control procedures and tools with an emphasis on "hand-washing, personal protective equipment and pristine technique," Cindy L. Munro, R.N., Ph.D., and Richard H. Savel, M.D., wrote in a recent article in the American Journal of Critical Care.

Even after Ebola heightened awareness, the United States still is fundamentally ill-equipped to handle future disease outbreaks, according to another recent report.

While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden said he thought the flu topped the list of the most serious infectious disease threats, Jeremey Farr, director of the medical charity Wellcome Trust, said superbugs may be an even bigger danger, according to Reuters.

"Drug resistance has to be put into the same category as the emerging infectious diseases," he said. "In my view, it will be the most important emerging infectious disease in the 21st century."

Indeed, in one recent outbreak, the superbug CRE sickened and killed patients after being transmitted through medical scopes, according to FierceHealthcare.

Regardless of which disease hospitals prepare to face, Piot told the BBC that the world can't afford to be caught off guard again in the way it was with the Ebola crisis.

"It's like a fire brigade--you don't start to set up a fire brigade when some house is on fire," he said.

To learn more:
- check out the Times article
- here's the Reuters report
- read the BBC article