The Social Amplification of Pandemics and Other Disasters



A spectrum of RNA viruses is undergoing rapid evolution in large-scale animal monoculture facilities. It is widely expected that one of multiple novel variants will emerge out of such food production, spreading across human populations worldwide and overwhelming even the best health system responses. A parsimonious mathematical model suggests such a pandemic would penetrate populations far more deeply than the 1918 influenza outbreak. While humanity could then lose a significant fraction of its populations to direct disease, the aftermath may be just as—or even more—deadly. From the perspective of two examples, we study powerful but little understood long-term socioecological mechanisms that can greatly raise morbidity and mortality after an initial disruptive event. In the context of likely pandemics, an effective program to contain the threat of a cascade of disasters, each the progenitor of the next, must start with the source of such infections. For many epizootics of agricultural origin, the USA and China, where most large-scale animal monoculture is either located or from which it is managed, appear two key places to begin structural interventions.


RNA viruses Social amplification Planned shrinkage 1918 influenza Pandemic penetrance Economic farming 



The authors thank H. Jack Geiger for reference to the 1962 NEJM articles, to which he was a contributor, and D.N. Wallace for useful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of EpidemiologyThe New York State Psychiatric InstituteNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Global StudiesUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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