Scientists say another COVID-like pandemic could be 60 years away

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A new study says that large COVID-19-like pandemics occur more often than previously believed. Researchers from Duke University warned there’s a nearly 40% chance of experiencing a pandemic in one’s lifetime, and those odds could jump threefold in the coming decades.

The study, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the probability of a pandemic with similar impacts of COVID-19 is about 2% in any given year, meaning someone born in the year 2000 would have a 38% chance of experiencing one by now.

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The study used records of past outbreaks to estimate the intensity and yearly probability of another taking place.

Researchers wrote, “We estimate that the yearly probability of occurrence of extreme epidemics can increase up to threefold in the coming decades.”

William Pan, Associate Professor of Global Environmental Health and author of the study, speculated that population growth, changes in food systems, environmental degradation and more frequent contact between humans and disease-harboring animals could be responsible.

Researchers estimated that a pandemic similar to COVID-19 could come back around within 59 years, adding the timeline is “much lower than intuitively expected.” According to the Duke Global Health Institute, the researchers also calculated the probability of a pandemic capable of eliminating all human life, saying it is statistically possible within the next 12,000 years.

The growing probability is why authors say it’s time to adjust perceptions of pandemic risks and expectations for preparedness.

“This points to the importance of early response to disease outbreaks and building capacity for pandemic surveillance at the local and global scales, as well as for setting a research agenda for understanding why large outbreaks are becoming more common,” Pan added.

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