Pandemic: A Horizon Guide

This is a story played out in an era of unprecedented technical change in which new scientific advances have given us the tools to confront some of nature's greatest threats and where shifting national rivalries have shaped their implementation. It is also a story of the television age where each new wave of disease reflects the change in nature of reporting. Science's battle with pandemic disease is an ongoing power struggle and since its advent television has been there for every success and failure.

In March 2009 a new form of the H1N1 virus called Swine Flu, because of its similarity to a virus found in pigs, put the globe under the latest threat of a pandemic. H1N1 shows all the sinister hallmarks of a pandemic. It's a virus that's new to humans and to which we have no immunity. It can cause serious disease and it's transmitted from person to person over a wide spread area.

Today we're better equipped than ever to deal with such an outbreak. It is precious knowledge that has been hard won. Swine Flu is just the latest in a long line of pandemics, from smallpox to SARS - outbreaks that can spiral around the world at ferocious speed. This is the story of these diseases, seen through the lens of more that forty years of television. Although bacteria had been understood for centuries it was the advent of the electron microscope in 1931 that allowed us to see a virus for the first time.

It was the beginning of a relationship between discovery and communication. Television made visible what science could see. It would go on to chart every major scientific advance and it was during this time frame that we would learn more about disease than in our entire history. In the mid-twentieth century deadly microbes were one of the greatest threats to human health. But the desire to conquer illness sparked a birth of scientific creativity.

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