Communicating Uncertainty About, Researching Emerging Disease Threats Important For Preparedness

“For more than 17 years, I have worked in Vietnam on the front line of emerging infectious diseases,” and “[m]y experience makes me convinced that H7N9 is a cause for concern,” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, who will become director of the Wellcome Trust in October, writes in a Financial Times opinion piece. However, “[t]here is a real danger that, as many threats fail to pan out, the public and politicians will start to suffer from risk fatigue. As unknown unknowns become known unknowns, we must learn how to communicate and be honest about our uncertainty” over new infectious agents’ potential to cause pandemics, he continues. “We must also work harder to understand the warning signs of truly dangerous viruses,” including performing gain-of-function research, Farrar states. “It is uncertain that any given new infection will trigger a pandemic, but it is certain that one or another will trigger one eventually. The more we know, and the better we handle the uncertainty, the better prepared we will be,” he concludes (8/11).

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