The Big One?

In February 2009, I started to notice that the influenza season in Mexico was not ending like it usually did. I noticed that the number of people sick with influenza-like illness was continued to climb when it should have been going down. What ended up happening was the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic… My first pandemic as an epidemiologist and my second one as a human being.

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I’m not that young anymore.

Those were some interesting times, for sure. We were working long hours at the health department, trying to come up with the best information to give to the policymakers. That was nothing compared to the healthcare providers and the laboratory staff who had to take care and test thousands and thousands of patients. And, of course, it doesn’t compare to the people who lost a loved one.

Still, the 2009 influenza pandemic was not as bad as it could have been. As it turned out, the H1N1 influenza virus was very virulent but not very pathogenic. While it went around the world in a matter of hours, it did not end up killing as many people as it could. It was no 1918.

So here I am in my third pandemic. This one — like the last one — is being billed as the “Big One” by people who don’t seem to remember history very well. In 2003, SARS seemed like the big one. In 2009, we know what happened then. In 2012, MERS seemed like the big one. Every time someone catches one of the many avian influenza viruses, they call it THE BIG ONE. But we keep on going.

No, I’m not minimizing the thousands of people who have died or are going to die from this novel coronavirus. I’m also not minimizing the disruptions it will cause. What I am saying is that we as a species will continue to move forward. Very few things can kill all 7.8 billion of us. And, if it does, we probably had it coming.

So let’s continue to wash our hands and be vigilant. Let’s not lose our minds and help this little virus hurt more people.

It’s not the big one. Not by a long shot.

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