Italian scientists have determined the probability of global outbreaks of diseases.
Scientists at the University of Padua in Italy have calculated the probability of new deadly pandemics, such as COVID-19, by analyzing global outbreaks of diseases over the past 400 years. The results of the study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It was found that the probability of a pandemic similar to the consequences of COVID-19 is about two percent in any year. This means that the probability of a pandemic for a person born in 2000 is currently about 38 percent, and this probability is only growing. That is, a similar pandemic may occur within the next 59 years.
The researchers used new statistical methods to measure the scale and frequency of outbreaks of diseases for which no immediate measures were taken to prevent the spread. The analysis results, covering some pathogens, including plague, smallpox, cholera, typhus, and new influenza viruses, showed significant differences in the rate of occurrence of pandemics in the past. The scientists also identified patterns that allowed them to describe the probability of repeating events of a similar scale.
In the case of the deadliest pandemic in modern history — the Spanish flu, which killed more than 30 million people between 1918 and 1920 – the probability of a pandemic of a similar scale ranged from 0.3 to 1.9 percent per year for a certain period of time. In other words, a pandemic of this magnitude could repeat itself within the next 400 years. However, the probability of outbreaks of new diseases, such as COVID-19, is likely to increase threefold in the next few decades.
In addition, the researchers calculated the probability of a pandemic that could destroy all people on Earth and found that it is statistically likely over the next 12 thousand years.
Scientists emphasize that the statistical probability does not imply a 59-year delay of a pandemic like COVID-19 or a 300-year delay of the Spanish flu pandemic. Such events are equally likely in any year during the entire period under consideration.