Author: Rochelle Gonzales

Date: February 03, 2021

Handling Pandemics in the 21st Century: Limiting the spread in a technologically driven world

Pandemics 101 and History

A pandemic is described as a large-scale outbreak of infectious disease with a widespread spreadability and increase in morbidity and mortality over a large geographic area. As humans continue to colonize different regions of the world, so have infectious diseases. Studies have shown that the likelihood of pandemics has increased over the past century due to an increase in trade, agriculture, urban development, and deforestation.1, 2 In fact, diseases have been a part of humanity since the start of community settlements, agriculture, and human travel. 

Some notable pandemics throughout history include:

  • The bubonic plague, or Black Death – 14th Century
    • Pathogen: Yersinia pestis
    • Transmission: Vector-borne, transmitted by fleas from rodent reservoirs3
  • Spanish Flu (1918 Influenza) – 1918-1919
    • Pathogen: H1N1 influenza A variant
    • Transmission: Airborne4
  • HIV/AIDS – 1980’s to current
    • Pathogen: Human immunodeficiency virus
    • Transmission: sexual
  • Swine Flu (H1N1) – 2009-2010
    • Pathogen: H1N1 influenza A variant
    • Transmission: Airborne5
  • Ebola – 2014-2016
    • Pathogen: Ebola Virus
    • Transmission: Direct, bodily fluids or contaminated fomites1
  • SARS – 2002-2003
    • Pathogen: SARS-CoV-1
    • Transmission: Direct/indirect mainly through droplets
  • COVID-19 – 2019 to current
    • Pathogen: SARS-CoV-2
    • Transmission: Direct/indirect mainly through droplets

Many diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, smallpox, and influenza came from exposures to animals and new ecosystems which continue to persist in the population but are no longer considered pandemics – simply because it is no longer a large-scale disease. However, the prevalence of various diseases depends on socioeconomic, political, and geographic factors. 

Contagious vs. Deadliness: COVID-19

One of the ways to evaluate the severity of a disease is through tracking the infectiousness of a disease, or basic reproduction rate – also known as R0 or “R naught” compared to its fatality rate. Reproduction rate represents how many people each sick person will infect, on average.2The higher the R0, the more contagious or infectious the disease is. However, it is important to realize the R0 can be dependent on the population’s current situation. For example, this considers how susceptible people are based on socioeconomic factors. 

On March 11, 2020, WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. It is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus to have massive implications on a global scale. An interactive data visual tool called The MicrobeScope, shows that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has an estimated fatality rate of 3%, with an R0 of about 2. Compared with other viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is more infectious than the seasonal flu but not as fatal as MERS. Diseases at the top are considered deadlier than those in the middle. Knowing the relative position of a virus like SARS-CoV-2 within this context is key to addressing the best way to control the spread of the disease.

Figure 1: Image courtesy of Visual Capitalist. 2020.

The fight against future pandemics

Scientists have always known that pandemics are always in the horizon. The impact of pandemics can not only lead to widespread increases in morbidity and mortality but can also cause economic and political instability.1 As seen recently with COVID-19, pandemic mitigation measures like quarantines and lockdowns have already proven to lead to political and socioeconomic tensions. 

However, increasing pandemic preparedness and investing in improving proper health care tools can help mitigate the spread of infectious diseases. This includes education about proper hygiene practices and implementation of infection control protocols. Additionally, it is key to know the mechanism of transmission, or chain of infection, of a pathogen to limit its spread. 

According to CDC, one of the key prevention measures against an influenza pandemic is practicing proper hand hygiene and environmental cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.2 It is widely known that proper hand hygiene reduces transmission of influenza and other infectious diseases. Especially in a time when one of the most touched items is a mobile device, sanitizing or disinfecting these items is crucial. The digital world of the 21st century has expanded our knowledge and mobile devices will continue to become a part of everyday routines. Therefore, it will become increasingly important to incorporate the sanitization of digital devices as part of the hand hygiene routine.

CleanSlate UV aims to elevate infection control practices and the promotion of modernizing hygiene practices through the technology of UV-C light to disinfect mobile devices against various pathogens. CleanSlate UV helps limit the spread of infection by addressing the problem of cross contamination involved with dirty digital devices. As future pandemics are inevitable, hand hygiene protocols must also adopt in a technologically driven society.

1. Jones K E, Patel N G, Levy M A, Storeygard A, Balk D., and others. 2008. “Global Trends in Emerging Infectious Diseases.” Nature 451 (7181): 990–93.

2. Morse S S. 1995. “Factors in the Emergence of Infectious Diseases.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 1 (1): 7–15.

3. Demeure, Christian E et al. “Yersinia pestis and plague: an updated view on evolution, virulence determinants, immune subversion, vaccination, and diagnostics.” Genes and immunity vol. 20,5 (2019): 357-370. doi:10.1038/s41435-019-0065-0

4. He, Cheng-Qiang et al. “The matrix segment of the "Spanish flu" virus originated from intragenic recombination between avian and human influenza A viruses.” Transboundary and emerging diseases vol. 66,5 (2019): 2188-2195. doi:10.1111/tbed.13282

5. Chauhan, Ravendra P, and Michelle L Gordon. “A Systematic Review Analyzing the Prevalence and Circulation of Influenza Viruses in Swine Population Worldwide.” Pathogens (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 9,5 355. 8 May. 2020, doi:10.3390/pathogens9050355

6. Jacob, Shevin T et al. “Ebola virus disease.” Nature reviews. Disease primers vol. 6,1 13. 20 Feb. 2020, doi:10.1038/s41572-020-0147-3

7. Delamater, P. L., Street, E. J., Leslie, T. F., Yang, Y. T., & Jacobsen, K. H. (2019). Complexity of the Basic Reproduction Number (R0). Emerging infectious diseases25(1), 1–4.

8. Madhav N, Oppenheim B, Gallivan M, et al. Pandemics: Risks, Impacts, and Mitigation. In: Jamison DT, Gelband H, Horton S, et al., editors. Disease Control Priorities: Improving Health and Reducing Poverty. 3rd edition. Washington (DC): The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank; 2017 Nov 27. Chapter 17. Available from: doi: 10.1596/978-1-4648-0527-1_ch17

9. Qualls N, Levitt A, Kanade N, et al. Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza — United States, 2017. MMWR Recomm Rep 2017;66(No. RR-1):1–34. 

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