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What we learnt from Netflix's docuseries Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak

The series looks at how prepared the world is for a pandemic

Published: Thursday, 12th March 2020 at 5:39 pm

With coronavirus dominating headlines, Netflix's new documentary Pandemic is eerily timed.


The six-part docuseries, which dropped on 22nd January, looks at how prepared (or not) the world is to deal with a deadly virus.

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak starts with a theory that we’re due for a new, fast-moving deadly virus.

The documentary looks back at a deadly influenza virus - which killed 50 to 100 million people at a time when the global population was just two billion in 1918 - showing black and white footage of people in tiny face masks, and lots of mass graves being dug. It moves onto the current battle to contain Ebola virus in Congo to anti-vaxxer parents.

Not for the faint-hearted, the scenes will have you asking questions about our current times.

Here's what we learnt from Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak.


1. A pandemic "will happen"

The synopsis reads: "In this docuseries, meet the heroes on the front lines of the battle against influenza and learn about their efforts to stop the next global outbreak."

Dr. Dennis Carroll, director of USAID’s Emerging Threats Unit, warns in Pandemic: “When we talk about another flu pandemic happening, it’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Dr Syra Mudad - who is responsible for preparing New York City's municipal hospitals against infectious disease outbreaks - adds: "What worries me is that it just takes one person to start an outbreak. We're basically human incubators. We can host a number of different diseases. It's just a matter of time before another pandemic starts, we don't know where or when but we know that it will."

She added that this pandemic could then spread throughout the country within " a month" and then the world the following month.

2. Healthcare workers need to protect themselves first

During episode one, entitled "It Hunts Us", employees of the NYC Health & Hospitals, America's largest municipal healthcare delivery system, took part in a simulation designed to assess their readiness for a major flu outbreak.

In order to overcome a pandemic, Dr Mudad believes there needs to be a lot of security put in place for healthcare professionals.

She said: "I think one of the things that we tried to put into the simulation was healthcare workers' safety. I think that was one of the biggest takeaways with the previous outbreaks."

One of the healthcare workers said she'd attend to a patient before changing her garments, at which point Dr Mudad informed them about the serious of "deadly respiratory disease".

Speaking of the 1919 influenza spread, she said: "Healthcare workers were affected. This shows us where we need to improve on."

3. The deadly virus will come from an animal


Dr Dennis Caroll revealed that the next pandemic is likely to come from an animal.

He said: "A pandemic influenza will likely come from an animal and it will be a new and novel never seen before virus."

The camera then switches to footage of bats, birds, chickens, and pigs.

"When a novel virus emerges from animals, we will not have natural immunity. Our systems will have no means to fight the infection off, which means it has potential to be very deadly," he added.

Dr Caroll also spoke about the avian bird flu (H7N9) in China and said it was the "most deadliest flu" at the time, where "60 per cent of the affected people have died".

At the time of recording, the virus hadn't spread beyond China but Dennis said "it could happen soon".

4. 100 million are "at risk"

The series stresses the seriousness of a pandemic.

Back in 1918, a Spanish flu virus killed 50 to 100 million people, at a time when the global population was just two billion.

However, there are now nearly eight billion people in the world.

Speaking about a lack of funding for flu vaccines, one of the medical researchers on the show explained: "It's scary because in 1919, it killed over 50 million people but we didn't even have planes and we didn't have people travelling from Asia to North America on a daily basis.

"We didn't have factory farms with thousands of pigs and thousands of chickens, but now we do, so it could be that hundreds of millions of people would die from the next pandemic if it were as contagious as the H1N1 in 1919."

Pandemic - Net

5. Hoarding is likely

Dr Syra speaks of "hoarding" but on a medical level, with vaccinations previously not made available in NYC during a breakout of H1 N1.

She says this was due to other countries hoarding them.

Holly Gorake - the only doctor at Jefferson County Hospital in Waurika Oklahoma - also shared her concerns particularly for her urban community and others like it.

She feels places with a higher population are going to "get that life saving medication first".

"I think that we'd be overwhelmed and we wouldn't be able to manage if a flu pandemic was to occur in our little county," she explained.

As well as disruption to resources, the docuseries spoke briefly of the effect a pandemic will have on infrastructure, electricity and food, explaining that people could lose their life over other issues such as starvation.

6. Fear Factor kicks in

The docuseries was key to point out that a pandemic can be a very scary time for people, and often results in people acting out of fear rather than logic.

This is something Dr Mudad knows all too well.

As she opened up about her passion for her job, she admitted she doesn't tell her children what she does for work, or even speak about it to other parents at their school.

"People's fear factor kicks in before logic. If they think I've had any remote contact with a disease, it's like, 'Don't touch me. Don't come near me!'" she explained.

7. What about self-medicating?


The series also looks at non-vaccinating families, where parents are now choosing not to have their children vaccinated - something the World Health Organisation is calling the biggest "threat" to society.

Doctor Dev Raj says his patients have mistaken serious illnesses with a cough and taken remedies such as "honey and lemon".

In episode two, which includes the chapter "We Don't Need Any Man Made Disasters", we meet a mother called Caylan Wagar, who has chosen to homeschool her five, young children.

She says: "Our lifestyle and the way that I raise my kids is just to be continually evolving and awakening in consciousness and awareness... I believe a healthy child has the ability to build up immunity naturally."


Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak is now available to stream on Netflix


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