The Smithsonian’s “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World”

By Zach Goble, Biodefense graduate student
On May 18, 2018, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History launched “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World”, a new exhibit highlighting the impact infectious diseases have around the globe. The launching of this exhibit could not be more timely on the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza pandemic that shook the world.

To officially announce and celebrate the opening of this new exhibit, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Society of Virology (ASV), and Research America all partnered together to brief the public on infectious diseases and the vaccines that stop them in their tracks.

Research America shared survey results on the American public’s opinion on topics such as global health and vaccination. The main findings emphasize that the majority of Americans believe infectious diseases pose a threat to the U.S. and also that vaccines are important to the health of our society. In the 1970s, there were seven vaccines on the recommended immunization schedule and today there are 15 recommended vaccines, more than doubling the number of infectious disease we are now better protected from.

One of the central themes echoed by all of the organizations present was that public support is key to the success of global health. It takes more than government, non-profit, and private industry organizations to bring forward global health issues and see them through to completion. While these organizations certainly play a large role in leadership and conducting research, the public has the ultimate power in controlling the direction and influence of global health topics.

Another topic of discussion was of the universal flu vaccine on the horizon. While this universal vaccine is likely still a few years down the road, the fact that a plan is in motion bodes well for individuals worldwide. Seasonal flu accounts for 3 to 5 million cases and 300,000 to 500,000 deaths globally each year and seasonal flu vaccines are not consistently effective. A universal flu vaccine would be more effective in targeting the majority of flu strains with the ability to last multiple seasons.

The presenting organizations and the new exhibit both emphasized a common motto, “microbes do not recognize national borders.” There are no barriers to the threat of infectious diseases and without a unified purpose the world risks being unprepared. However, public opinion on global health is important and, with proper education on critical topics, can be motivated to spur action in order to prevent the next pandemic.

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