Another major pandemic of similar scale to COVID-19 is likely to occur within the next 59 years, according to a new study published on Monday.
The prediction would be for a pandemic with a similar deadliness to that of the coronavirus, but the researchers also found that a pandemic similar to the devasting Spanish flu, which killed around 50 million people between 1918 and 1920, would likely occur within the next 400 years.
The study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used data compiled by looking at all pandemics over the past 400 years. It found that there is around a two percent probability of a pandemic of similar scale to COVID-19 occurring in any given year.
“The most important takeaway is that large pandemics like COVID-19 and the Spanish flu are relatively likely,” William Pan, associate professor of global environmental health at Duke University in the US and one of the paper’s co-authors, said in a statement.
The authors were quick to warn that the probability of pandemics occurring is only increasing, with the study estimating that the chance of novel disease outbreaks occurring will dramatically increase over the next few decades.
“Together with recent estimates of increasing rates of disease emergence from animal reservoirs associated with environmental change, this finding suggests a high probability of observing pandemics similar to COVID-19 (probability of experiencing it in one’s lifetime currently about 38 percent), which may double in coming decades,” the authors wrote.
These estimates do not mitigate the chance of another pandemic arising sooner than expected, however, as the authors noted that the likelihood of a pandemic occurring does not change year to year.
“When a 100-year flood occurs today, one may erroneously presume that one can afford to wait another 100 years before experiencing another such event … This impression is false. One can get another 100-year flood the next year,” Gabriel Katul, the Theodore S. Coile Distinguished Professor of Hydrology and Micrometeorology at Duke University and another of the paper’s authors, said in the statement.