Join Liam Brierley at 8.20pm, Thursday 24th August at the New Town Theatre (Fringe venue 7) to discuss the likelihood of a viral pandemic wiping out the human race.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’m an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, and I’m interested in using statistics to tackle real world problems in health and biology
What can people expect from your show?
I’m going to be taking the audience right into the middle of an outbreak situation, and together we’ll investigate whether we have a potential pandemic on our hands! So I’d say expect tension, excitement and maybe a few hazard suits.
How does your CoDI show fit in with your research?
A lot of my previous research, including my PhD research at the University of Edinburgh, was focused on asking very similar questions to those I’ll investigate within the outbreak scenario of my CoDI show. In my research, I’ve taken what we know already about all the viruses we’ve discovered to infect humans, then used statistics and models to try and learn new things about their evolution or natural history. Ultimately, we’re hoping to predict the next pandemics before they occur.
Why is the topic ‘dangerous’?
In recent years we’ve seen serious outbreaks of new diseases that have affected thousands and in some cases even millions of people. But it’s argued that we could have had it much worse – although 2009’s H1N1 influenza (or ‘swine flu’) pandemic spread very quickly, the disease wasn’t very much more severe than seasonal flu. In contrast, H5N1 influenza (or ‘bird flu’) often causes severe disease, but it’s rare because it doesn’t transmit very well between humans. The danger that scientists are preparing for is the possible appearance of a new virus, flu or otherwise, that is both potentially deadly and spreads efficiently.
What surprises you about your CODI show?
The sheer diversity of viruses in nature. We know of many viruses that only seem to be found in humans. If we assume every animal species on the planet has their own ‘specialist’ viruses just like us, that’s an astronomical number already, without considering the more ‘generalist’ viruses. And we’ve identified so little of what’s out there so far.
Do you have a favourite virus?
My favourite viruses are known as the Ampullaviridae – this a very unusual family of viruses, because they’re shaped exactly like tiny wine bottles! Thankfully, they only infect bacteria and not humans.
What is the biggest misconception about your CoDI show?
I think one big misconception is that there’s nothing we can do. There’s been a real shift in research focus over the last 15 years or so from control to prevention, and we’re now using genetics, epidemiology, and statistics to make smarter decisions and attempts to prevent outbreaks happening in the first place.
Why should people care about your CoDI show?
Outbreaks of new diseases aren’t just something that happens to other places – they’re everyone’s problem. Even though in the UK we’re lucky to have resources for healthcare and biosecurity, future pandemics could potentially affect all of us.
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