Pitt Historian Mari Webel: Past outbreaks provide lessons for figuring out new coronavirus

Historians in the News
tags: historians, public health, coronavirus

The way China and the rest of the world are dealing with the coronavirus outbreak may appear chaotic now.

But history — distant and particularly more recent history of similar outbreaks — shows that global health experts will eventually get a hold of it, said Mari Webel, an assistant history professor at the University of Pittsburgh who specializes in the history of public health.

“We don’t know a lot about [coronavirus] right now,” said Ms. Webel, who has a PhD in history and teaches classes on the history of health. “But this is why it’s so important to think about what specific pathogen is causing the problem. How is it transmitted? How fast does it move? How many people can one person infect?

“They don’t know now. But they’ll figure it out.”

That was true in 2002 and 2003 when an even more deadly outbreak of a coronavirus in southern China, known as SARS, which killed about 10% of people infected versus 2% of the new virus, sent health officials scrambling to figure out similar information about that virus.

“There were a lot of consequential changes in the World Health Organizations way of operating because of SARS,” Ms. Webel said. “And that was informed again by the H1N1 outbreak [in 2009], and then Ebola” in 2014.

Read entire article at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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