Global Epidemics

We checked our archives for useful material on emerging infectious diseases and epidemics with a focus on policy, management and political economy – and with an angle on the current coronavirus outbreak. Below you’ll find a selection of some of the most interesting findings from our stacks. There are so many shoddy and misleading pieces written and said about this topic that we hope you’ll find our list of more enduring value.


The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris (2019)
by Mark Honigsbaum

A medical historian narrates the last century of scientific struggle against an enduring enemy: deadly contagious disease…[D]espite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles. From the Spanish flu to the 1924 outbreak of pneumonic plague in Los Angeles to the 1930 “parrot fever” pandemic, through the more recent SARS, Ebola, and Zika epidemics, the last one hundred years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated pandemic alarms.

Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know (2013)
by Peter C. Doherty

A Nobel Prize-winning medical researcher in this field…explains the causes of pandemics, how they can be counteracted with vaccines and drugs, and how we can better prepare for them in the future….[The author] explains how the main threat of a pandemic comes from respiratory viruses, such as influenza and SARS, which disseminate with incredible speed through air travel. The climate disruptions of global warming, rising population density, and growing antibiotic resistance all complicate efforts to control pandemics. But Doherty stresses that pandemics can be fought effectively.

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus (2014)
by David Quammen

In 1976 a deadly virus emerged from the jungles of Sudan. As swiftly as it came, it disappeared, leaving no trace. Over the four decades since, Ebola has emerged sporadically, each time to devastating effect. It can kill up to 90 percent of its victims. In between these outbreaks, it is untraceable, hiding deep in the jungle. The search is on to find Ebola’s elusive host animal. And until we find it, Ebola will continue to strike. 

Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic (2016)
by Paul Richards

From December 2013, the largest Ebola outbreak in history swept across West Africa, claiming thousands of lives in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. By the middle of 2014, the international community was gripped by hysteria. Experts grimly predicted that millions would be infected within months, and a huge international control effort was mounted to contain the virus. Yet paradoxically, by this point the disease was already going into decline in Africa itself. So why did outside observers get it so wrong?

Ebola’s Curse: 2013-2016 Outbreak in West Africa (2017)
by Michael Oldstone, Madeleine Oldstone

Ebola‘s Curse: 2013-2016 Outbreak in West Africa is about hemorrhagic fever viruses, especially Ebola, its initial origin in central Africa 1976, its unprecedented appearance in West Africa in 2013. 

Animal Viruses and Humans, a Narrow Divide: How Lethal Zoonotic Viruses Spill Over and Threaten Us (2018)
by Warren Andiman

To reproduce promiscuously and to wreak havoc wherever they can find a home is the raison d’être of viruses… [This book] traces the history of eight zoonotic viruses—deadly microbes that have made the leap directly from animals to human populations: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) * Swine influenza * Hantavirus * Monkeypox * Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) * Rabies * Ebola * Henipaviruses (Nipah and Hendra). [It] also illustrates the labor intensive and fascinating detective work that infectious disease specialists must do to uncover the source of an outbreak.

Viruses: A Very Short Introduction (2018)
by Dorothy H. Crawford

[This short book] outlines the origins, structure, and method of infection for a vast variety of viruses affecting us today…including the recent epidemics of Ebola, Zika, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Pandemics and Polarization: Implications of Partisan Budgeting for Responding to Public Health Emergencies (2019)
by Nathan Myers

Partisan divisions over policy in the U.S. Congress and rising disease threats put millions of Americans at risk. The Zika public health emergency is used to illustrate the key functions of coordination, providing countermeasures, and engaging in disease surveillance… Also examined in the book are serious threats still on the horizon that are expected to require strong government action in the future. Possible policies to avoid future gridlock are considered.

The Psychology of Pandemics: Preparing for the Next Global Outbreak of Infectious Disease (2019)
by Steven Taylor

[R]emarkably little attention has been devoted to the psychological factors that influence the spread of pandemic infection and the associated emotional distress and social disruption. Psychological factors are important for many reasons. They play a role in nonadherence to vaccination and hygiene programs, and play an important role in how people cope with the threat of infection and associated losses.

Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present (2019)
by Frank M. Snowden

[This book explores] the impact of epidemic diseases, looks at how mass infectious outbreaks have shaped society, from the Black Death to today. [The author] reveals the ways that diseases have not only influenced medical science and public health, but also transformed the arts, religion, intellectual history, and warfare.

Global Epidemics, Local Implications: African Immigrants and the Ebola Crisis in Dallas (2019)
by Kevin J. A. Thomas

[This book] highlights the complex ways in which disease outbreaks that begin in one part of the world affect the lives of immigrants in another. Drawing on information from a community survey, participant observations, government documents, and newspapers, the author examines how African immigrants were negatively affected by public backlash and their agency and resilience in responding to the consequences of epidemic.

Academic Papers

The SARS, MERS and Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Epidemics, the Newest and Biggest Global Health Threats: What Lessons Have We Learned? (2020)
by Noah C Peeri et al.

We conclude that we did not learn from the two prior epidemics of coronavirus and were ill-prepared to deal with the challenges the COVID-19 epidemic has posed. Future research should attempt to address the uses and implications of internet of things (IoT) technologies for mapping the spread of infection.

Ebola, the Spanish Flu, and the Memory of Disease (2019)
by Paul Farmer

The recent epidemic of Ebola triggered epidemics of therapeutic nihilism. These latter outbreaks are recognized when health authorities and pundits proclaim that the primary task is to contain the spread of disease, rather than care of the stricken, because there’s not much to be done for them – the disease held to be “untreatable” in Africa. And an additional dose of nihilism has been administered by the US administration’s decision to rescind funding designed to prepare for future outbreaks.

Media Framing and the Threat of Global Pandemics: The Ebola Crisis in UK Media and Policy Response (2018)
by Elisa Pieri

Risks associated with the spread of pandemics generate intense speculation in Western media. Taking the 2014–2015 Ebola outbreak as a case study, the article critically analyses how the risk of contagion in the US, Europe, and the UK has been constructed in UK media and policy discourse. Drawing on the importance of media framing in shaping a given problem definition, causal interpretation and treatment recommendation, the article questions the rationale of a UK domestic political response based on containment and border screenings.

Ebola and Localized Blame on Social Media: Analysis of Twitter and Facebook Conversations During the 2014–2015 Ebola Epidemic (2019)
by Melissa Roy et al.

This study aims to analyze main groups accused on social media of causing or spreading the 2014–2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. In this analysis, blame is construed as a vehicle of meaning through which the lay public makes sense of an epidemic, and through which certain classes of people become “figures of blame”. 

Microbial Insurgency: Theorizing Global Health in the Anthropocene (2019)
by Katherine Hirschfeld

The 2014 Ebola fever epidemic expanded into an international threat far more quickly than experts anticipated…The 2015 yellow fever outbreak in Angola exhausted global vaccine supplies and put millions of people at risk. This article argues that global health authorities failed to anticipate the magnitude of these outbreaks because the field has not been updated to address the ways recent changes in international political economy are combining with environmental instabilities…to increase epidemiological risks.

Emergent Threats: Lessons Learnt from Ebola (2019)
by Peter Piot et al.

Recent disease outbreaks have demonstrated the severe health, economic and political crises that epidemics can trigger. The rate of emergence of infectious diseases is accelerating and, with deepening globalisation, pathogens are increasingly mobile. Yet the 2014–2015 West African Ebola epidemic exposed major gaps in the world’s capacity to prevent and respond to epidemics…[W]e reflect on six of the many lessons learnt from the epidemic in West Africa.

Review of International Efforts to Strengthen the Global Outbreak Response System since the 2014–16 West Africa Ebola Epidemic (2019)
by Sanjana J. Ravi et al.

The 2014–16 West Africa Ebola epidemic was a watershed moment for global health. The outbreak galvanized global action around strengthening infectious disease prevention, detection and response capabilities. We examined the nascent landscape of international programmes, initiatives and institutions established in the aftermath of the 2014–16 Ebola outbreak with the aim of assessing their progress to date to illustrate the current state of the world’s global health security architecture.

The Everyday Political Economy of Health: Community Health Workers and the Response to the 2015 Zika Outbreak in Brazil (2019)
by João Nunes

[This paper investigages] the concrete experiences…of the local implementation of health policies in the context of neoliberalism. The framework is applied to the case of the 2015 public health response to Zika in Brazil, and specifically to the role of community health workers…The everyday practice of these workers, and their working conditions overwhelmingly characterized by precarity and low pay, reveal the presence of global neoliberal dynamics pertaining to the reconfiguration of the Brazilian state as healthcare provider in a context of encroaching austerity, privatization and narrowly-defined cost-efficiency. These dynamics impacted detrimentally upon the effectiveness of the Zika response.

The Socio-Economic Distribution of Exposure to Ebola: Survey Evidence From Liberia and Sierra Leone (2020)
by Karen A. Grépin et al.

Socio-economic factors are widely believed to have been an important driver of the transmission of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) during the West African outbreak of 2014–16, however, studies that have investigated the relationship between socio-economic status (SES) and EVD have found inconsistent results. Using nationally representative household survey data on whether respondents knew a close friend or family member with Ebola, we explore the SES determinants of EVD exposure along individual, household, and community lines in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

‘Tiny Iceland’ Preparing for Ebola in a Globalized World
by Geir Gunnlaugsson et al.

Communication and training were important for preparedness of health staff in Iceland, in order to receive, admit, and treat a patient suspected of having Ebola, while doubts prevailed on staff capacity to properly do so. For optimal preparedness, likely scenarios for future global security health threats need to be repeatedly enacted, and areas plagued by poverty and fragile healthcare systems require global support.

Ebola and the Airplane – Securing Mobility through Regime Interactions and Legal Adaptation (2019)
by Gearóid Ó. Cuin, Stephanie Switzer

This article concentrates on a particular controversy during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa; the mass cancellation of flights to and from affected countries. This occurred despite authoritative advice against such restrictions from the World Health Organization (WHO). During a public health emergency such as Ebola, the airplane sits at a site of regulatory uncertainty as it falls within the scope of two specialist and overlapping domains of international law; the WHO International Health Regulations (2005) and the Convention on International Civil Aviation. 

Xenophobia’s Contours During an Ebola Epidemic: Proximity and the Targeting of Peul Migrants in Senegal (2019)
by Ato K. Onoma

This article examines the effect of geographical proximity on targeting patterns during Ebola-era xenophobic outbursts by Senegalese against a migrant Peul population of Guinean origins. It highlights the limited extent to which epidemics shape the micro-dynamics of outbreaks of xenophobia during public health crises, demonstrating that epidemics are not defining events that inflect inter-group relations. They mostly reinforce long-persisting patterns of exclusion. 

Science, Innovation and Society: What We Need to Prepare for the Health Challenges of the Twenty-First Century? (2019)
by Jeremy Farrar

Drug resistance is inevitable, as pathogens are constantly evolving, finding ways to evade our immune systems and our drugs… Science and innovation can develop the next generation of drugs, vaccines and other interventions. However, without an appreciation in society of the value of these interventions, no amount of science can ensure we have what is needed to underpin modern medicine or preventive health care policies. Without publicly supported regulation to control use while ensuring access and robust incentives to address market failures…we will lose these remarkable drugs now and for future generations.

Preparedness for the Next Epidemic: Health and Political Issues of an Emerging Paradigm (2019)
by Pierre-Marie David, Nicolas Le Dévédec

The intent of this commentary is to argue the need to discuss some aspects of the preparedness paradigm from both health and democratic perspectives. We believe preparedness reveals a new and problematic biopolitical orientation in global health. Our argument is that preparedness enacts a model that: (i) reconfigures knowledge about epidemics by disconnecting them from the social and historical contexts in which they arise and (ii) imposes new modalities of intervention that raise issues for democratic autonomy. 

A Novel Coronavirus Emerging in China — Key Questions for Impact Assessment (2020)
by Vincent J. Munster et al.

We currently do not know where 2019-nCoV falls on the scale of human-to-human transmissibility. But it is safe to assume that if this virus transmits efficiently, its seemingly lower pathogenicity as compared with SARS, possibly combined with super-spreader events in specific cases, could allow large-scale spread. In this manner, a virus that poses a low health threat on the individual level can pose a high risk on the population level

Improving Community Resilience through the Development of an Epidemic Risk and Priority Framework (2019)
Kubilay Aslantas

Existing frameworks for epidemic response are either disease specific, category specific or nonspecific national models, but so far no model exist that combine all elements. The aim of this study is to create a holistic framework for early warning system for disease outbreaks by identifying the risk factors of epidemics at an early stage.

Assessing National Public Health Law to Prevent Infectious Disease Outbreaks: Immunization Law as a Basis for Global Health Security (2019)
by Tsion B. Ghedamu, Benjamin M. Meier

Where public health law has become central to preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease, public health law reform is seen as necessary to implement the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA). This article examines national immunization laws as a basis to implement the GHSA and promote the public’s health, analyzing the scope and content of these laws to prevent infectious disease across Sub-Saharan Africa. 

What Should Health Science Journalists Do in Epidemic Responses? (2020)
by Katherina Thomas and Alpha D. Senkpeni

In the history of global health journalism—from the 1721 Boston smallpox epidemic to the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak in China and Singapore and to recent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo—newsrooms have wielded their power both responsibly and irresponsibly. This article examines journalism practice during the 2013-2016 Ebola epidemic and recommends strategies for improving epidemic reporting.

Institutional Trust and Misinformation in the Response to the 2018–19 Ebola Outbreak in North Kivu, DR Congo: a Population-Based Survey (2019)
by Patrick Vinck et al.

Community-level prevention and outbreak control measures appear to be dependent on public trust in relevant authorities and information, but little scholarship has explored these issues. We aimed to investigate the role of trust and misinformation on individual preventive behaviours during an outbreak of Ebola virus disease.

Planning for Large Epidemics and Pandemics (2018)
by Vageesh Jain et al.

In recent years, numerous epidemics and pandemics have caused not only considerable loss of life but also billions of dollars of economic loss. Although the events have served as a wake-up call and led to the implementation of relevant policies and counter-measures, such as the Global Health Security Agenda, many questions remain and much work to be done. Wise policies and approaches for outbreak control exist, but will require the political will to implement them.

Google Trends and Forecasting of Influenza Epidemics in Lithuania (2019)
by Donatas Austys, M. Burneikaitė

Google Trends has a potential to be used for forecasting influenza epidemics in Lithuania. Google Search query ‘gripas’ proved the most beneficial for forecasting incidence rate of upper respiratory tract infections and influenza in Lithuania.


Data Sharing and Outbreaks: Best Practice Exemplified (2020)
by David L. Heymann

The current outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus is yet another example of the importance of infections at the animal–human interface, and the concerns that arise from the emergence of a newly identified organism as it spreads through human populations and across national and international borders. At the beginning of an outbreak such as this, readily available information is important to begin the assessment necessary to understand the risks and begin outbreak containment activities.

Catastrophic Risk: Waking Up to the Reality of a Pandemic? (2019)
by Jamison Pike et al.

Will a major shock awaken US citizens to the threat of catastrophic pandemic risk? Using a natural experiment administered both before and after the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak, our evidence suggests “no”. Our results show that prior to the Ebola scare, US citizens were relatively complacent and placed a low relative priority on public spending to prepare for a pandemic disease outbreak relative to an environmental disaster risk (e.g., Fukushima) or a terrorist attack (e.g., 9/11).

Ethics Guidance for the Public Health Containment of Serious Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Low-Income Settings: Lessons from Ebola (2019)
by Nancy Kass et al.

Regardless of geography, public health response to infectious disease outbreaks should be effective, fair, respectful and transparent. Too often, however, outbreaks are met with fear, discrimination, and interventions with limited evidence, raising ethical as well as public health concerns. This ethics guidance is intended to help navigate response challenges that arise particularly where resources are significantly constrained, where core public health functions generally are weak, where there are high levels of economic, social, or political inequities, and where outside personnel are often brought in to aid in the response.

The 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Epidemic: a Retroactive Examination of Economic Costs (2019)
by Ilan Noy, Sharlan Shields

The 2003 SARS epidemic was the first epidemic of the 21st century to pose a threat to global health and generate considerable panic across the globe. Fortunately, due to the rapid containment of the epidemic, both the harm to the public’s health and economic losses were not as considerable as many feared they might be. After a short period of economic turmoil…normal patterns of economic activity were resumed. However, during this period there were dramatic reductions in air travel and tourism, and leisure and/or hospitality services in the areas affected by SARS. These losses were driven by public avoidance, which contributed to a disproportionate aggregate disease prevention cost.


Why Snakes Probably Aren’t Spreading the New China Virus (2020)
by Ewen Callaway, David Cyranoski

One genetic analysis suggests reptilian reservoir — but researchers doubt that the coronavirus could have originated in animals other than birds or mammals.

Transition to Extinction: Pandemics in a Connected World (2016)
by Yaneer Bar-Yam

When we introduce long range transportation into the model, the success of more aggressive strains changes. They can use the long range transportation to find new hosts and escape local extinction.

The Awful Diseases on the Way (2016)
by Annie Sparrow

According to the doctor, writer, and philanthropist Larry Brilliant, “outbreaks are inevitable, pandemics are optional.” Brilliant, a well-known expert on global health, ought to know, since he has had much to do with smallpox eradication. Smallpox, arguably the worst disease in human history, caused half a billion deaths during the twentieth century alone…[S]mallpox is still the only disease affecting humans ever to have been eradicated…Meanwhile, dozens of new infectious diseases have emerged, including the pathogens behind the twenty-first-century “pan-epidemics”—a term coined by Dr. Daniel Lucey to describe SARS, avian flu, swine flu, MERS, Ebola, and now Zika.

Welcome to the Belt and Road Pandemic (2020)
by Laurie Garrett

China is…a nation deeply connected to the rest of the world—far more so than was the case when SARS erupted in 2003. Since 2013, the center of China’s foreign and trade policies is the Belt and Road Initiative, a massive loan project that includes land and maritime infrastructure, extending to northern Germany, across southern Russia and the Central Asian nations, and down the eastern coast of Africa. In what is surely the largest infrastructure and investment project in history, covering 70 core countries, the Belt and Road will eventually reach two-thirds of the world population.


Quarantine (2019)
by LSE: Public Lectures and Events

One hundred years after the influenza pandemic, a novelist, a science writer and a population health specialist discuss the social impact of pandemics through time, and how virus, quarantine and contagion continue to inspire our dystopian literary imaginations. 

Stopping Ebola (2019)
by Big Picture Science

A new vaccine may help turn Ebola into a disease we can prevent, and a new drug may make it one we can cure.  But the political crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo has fueled violence against health workers and Ebola treatment centers.  Find out why context matters in the efforts to stop Ebola, what new drugs and vaccines are on the horizon, and whether the world is prepared for the next infectious pandemic.  

SARS (2019)
by BMJ talk medicine

Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Visiting Professor at Imperial College London, and Chair of the Public Health England Global Health Committee. Professor Griffiths discusses the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak in Hong Kong, and what healthcare professionals should know about the virus.

SRAS, histoire d’une épidémie (2020)
by Programme B [in French]

En ce début d’année 2020, la peur récurrente d’une pandémie emportant un bon morceau de l’humanité s’est réveillée. Avec le 2019-nCoV, tout simplement appelé coronavirus, nous reviennent les souvenirs des grandes épidémies qui ont déjà frappé le monde par le passé. A commencer par celle du Sras, un coronavirus également, venu lui aussi de Chine, et dont la propagation et l’angoisse qu’il a suscité ne sont pas sans rappeler la crise actuelle.


Will the Coronavirus Derail the Global Economy? (2020)
by Chang-Tai Hsieh

A panel of leading experts to discuss the potential health and economic implications of the coronavirus outbreak.

Ebola in 2019: What Has Changed Since 2014 (2019)
by Ron Klain

The Ebola virus disease outbreak that affected West Africa from 2014 to 2016 was the largest and most complex on record since the virus was first discovered in the 1970’s. In August of 2018, the disease appeared again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and continues to impact the country – escalating to a public health emergency of international concern. This talk explores the numerous lessons that the experiences of fighting the virus hold for the future.

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