Monday, October 17, 2011

The Importance of Listening to Viral Chatter

In this essay published in the Wall Street Journal, Nathan Wolfe (small world! He's the Lorry Lokey Visiting Professor in Human Biology here at Stanford, and he's been mentioned a couple times in class) shares his dream of pandemic preparedness. He hopes for a well-developed network and communications infrastructure in rural Africa, a hotspot for emerging viruses. He imagines a constant inflow of viral data from across the continent (in a colleague's words, "viral chatter"), and he hopes to see teams of bright young minds absorbing and analyzing this information, hoping to see patterns of viral emergence in the mountains of data.

I do think his dream is worthy of serious consideration, taking into account the increasing number of lives that could be claimed by a pandemic. However, Wolfe's proposal is essentially an early warning system. If the virus emerges quickly and spreads rapidly, then we won't be able to respond quickly enough to stop it.

Still, Wolfe's vision of the future of infectious disease reveals a multidisciplinary field that requires all sorts of skillsets and knowledge. It's exciting, and it reminds me why I am a HUMAN Biology major. :]


WSJ: Nathan Wolfe on How to Stop the Next Pandemic

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