Get Visual: Spookily prescient

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Don’t you just love a good coincidence? I know I do.

Though my daily routine is only lightly influenced by the current stay-at-home normality (as I stopped working a bit less than a year ago), it has still afforded me additional time to do those things I’ve been meaning to do but managed to avoid by going out to more pleasant experiences, like concerts, movies, and dinners, that are now impossible.

Illustration by Matt Rota, stolen from The New York Times, and cropped (with apologies) 

So I’m sorting through old stuff, a long-overdue project. I’m not a hoarder (really!), but I do get lazy and take too long to complete things I’ve started. That’s why I have a terrible backlog of unread newspapers and magazines in my room, but it’s also why they don’t just go wholesale into the recycling bin – I want to go through them first. I started and I mean to finish.

Over the past year, the occasional fit of constructive reviewing, sorting, and tossing of these archives always produces a gem or two – and so I am encouraged in my folly. This effect was more than abundantly clear a few days ago when I randomly picked up and read (well, cherry-picked) an entire Sunday New York Times from September, 2012.

In it, there was a spookily prescient op-ed by David Quammen, whose book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic was soon to be published. There he asked the question we all now know the answer to: What will cause the next global pandemic?

His answer included the following:
     Scientists who study this subject — virologists, molecular geneticists, epidemiologists, disease ecologists — stress its complexity but tend to agree on a few points.

   Yes, there probably will be a Next Big One, they say. It will most likely be caused by a virus, not by a bacterium or some other kind of bug. More specifically, we should expect an RNA virus (specifically, one that bears its genome as a single molecular strand), as distinct from a DNA virus (carrying its info on the reliable double helix, less prone to mutation, therefore less variable and adaptable). Finally, this RNA virus will almost certainly be zoonotic — a pathogen that emerges from some nonhuman animal to infect, and spread among, human beings.

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