Experts in health and infectious diseases have said a combination of antimicrobial resistance, complacency, austerity, climate change, urbanisation and migration are increasing the risk of infectious diseases and pandemics.
The warning came after 150 senior academics, policymakers and healthcare professionals met at the Science Museum to explore what should be done to ensure the world is prepared for the future.
The debate was hosted by the International Longevity Centre (ILC) and timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Spanish flu, which infected about 500 million people and killed between 50 and 100 million people.
ILC warned that alarmist or inaccurate reporting could also help spread fear or misinformation and undermine the prevention of future infectious diseases.
The “Spanish flu” was so called, not because Spain was most heavily impacted or was the origin of the disease, but because most countries involved in the First World War controlled the spread of information through censorship. The neutrality of Spain led to them publishing impartial and accurate information about the disease.
The event was part of a global programme, talking to experts across the world about what policy and practice interventions would best minimise the risks to health and longevity of future infectious diseases.
David Sinclair, ILC Director said: “The Spanish flu shaped the profile of a generation, their demographics but also their health profile. 100 years on, it is vital that we do not become complacent about infectious diseases.
“We must learn the lessons from this deadly disease to ensure that history does not repeat itself. Reporting on science should be clear, transparent and evidence based. There is no space for fake news if we are to be best prepared.
“Policymakers must not rest on their laurels. Antimicrobial Resistance is a real threat and vaccination across the lifecourse should be our first line of defence."
Steven Baxter, Head of Longevity Innovation & Research, Hymans Robertson, said: “The Spanish Flu traversed the world owing to the mass movement of troops between continents. One hundred years on, that widespread, devastating infection rate is a warning of the potential for pandemic in our globally connected world.
“A modern day antibiotic resistant pandemic would have far reaching impact. Immediate effects of huge morbidity, loss of economic productivity, massive strain on health systems and potentially material loss of life are obvious. But there are also likely to be longer term effects. The Spanish Flu of 1918-1919 resulted in a generation resilient to the H1N1 flu strain, but heightened susceptibility to other flu strains. It also left a legacy respiratory and cardiovascular weaknesses within younger suffers believed to have manifested many decades later.
“Just as viruses adapt – we must adapt to today’s challenges if we want to maintain our current levels of health and longevity.”