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What global disease threat concerns health officials the most?

Nurses prepare influenza vaccine injections during a flu shot clinic at Dorchester House, a health care clinic, in Boston, Massachusetts on January 12, 2013.

(REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

Infectious disease outbreaks are not only the potential for the society to destabilize, they pose a threat to the international economy.

What should the public health officials, and businesses do to prepare?

Doctors Thomas Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Susan Desmond-Hellmann, chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sat down with the Wall Street Journal Assistant managing editor Laura Landro to discuss this issue. Edited excerpts follow.

MS. LANDRO: I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie “Contagion.” How close are we to a scenario like that? Something that can’t be included?

DR. FRIEDEN: Each year, on average, we identify a new pathogen. And every day, on average, we are at the CDC to start a new investigation that could detect a new pathogen.

But to be honest, the pandemic influenza is what makes us the most worry.

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Bill Gates has said: there are really only two things that can kill 10 million people all over the world. A nuclear war and a biological event, intentional or natural. It has happened before in 1918 and 1919, 50 million to 100 million people were killed. Even the flu pandemic of 1957, which most people haven’t heard, charges 3% of the global gross domestic product. Even SARS, a relatively small outbreak, cost about $30 billion. We don’t know when the next will come, where it comes from or what it will be. But we are sure that there will be a next one.

MS. LANDRO: How should the Gates Foundation will see this, in terms of the danger for the world? The idea that the company will be disturbed, there are all kinds of social unrest?

DR. DESMOND-HELLMANN: What we have learned from Ebola is that there are a few things that are underutilized and not ready. Is governance. Who makes the call on when things happen? The second thing is having the right tools, that is the reason why the global health research and development is a big focus of our foundation.

And the last thing is, even though the world is worried about something that is really super scary, as in “Contagion” we saw last summer how something as Zika, but that was not thought to be a major threat, is actually a particular threat for women who may become pregnant because it causes a serious birth defect.

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