The Scientific Society: Plagues and People

Tuesday, 18th September 2012

Professor Roy Anderson gave a talk to the Scientific Society on ‘Plagues and People’ in which he described the evolution of man and the many different pathogens that affect us. He explained that these pathogens evolved much more quickly than humans which meant that developing a vaccine would be very difficult. By the time a vaccine could be produced, the pathogen would have mutated into a different form and the vaccine would be ineffective. Professor Anderson then went on to talk about the different plagues that man has faced or will face in the future; these included HIV and Influenza. The lessons of the 2003 outbreak of SARS taught scientists that the ease of air travel made it possible to spread a disease across the world in a matter of hours. This could cause a larger number of people to be infected than ever before and lead to a plague even worse than SARS and Spanish Influenza pandemic.

The second part of his talk was on the epidemiology of infectious diseases and the factors that affect their effectiveness. An indicator of a disease’s potential is its morbidity rate. A disease which is both highly infectious and has a high mortality rate would have a high morbidity rate which could be fatal to the world’s population. Professor Anderson postulated that if such a pathogen is discovered in the future, its basic reproduction number (R0: the number of people which will be infected from a single case) would be very important to determine the infection’s course. These statistics are extremely important in determining the measures which need to be taken to prevent the disease from spreading across a population. He advised that in the case of a serious epidemic, all schools would need to closed to prevent rapid transmission of the pathogen. The best defence against such a possibility would be vaccines since they prevented people from catching the disease. He finished by arguing that it is better to prevent the infection from occurring rather than trying to kill it off once it has entered the body. Everybody enjoyed this thought-provoking and engaging talk from Professor Anderson.

Lee OS (PGW)