The director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy is moving up in the world.
Michael Osterholm , the center’s director, has been appointed to a new global council on pandemic outbreaks. He was appointed to the council by the World Economic Forum , a worldwide nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the state of the world. It has councils for issues in health, poverty and technology .
Osterholm said the council hopes to create a plan to be prepared for the next global pandemic. A pandemic today is more than just people getting sick, he said, because of how quickly products and people travel across the globe.
“One of the issues we have to understand is an influenza pandemic today overlaid on top of the global economy has tremendous implications,” he said.
Laurel O’Neil, Osterholm’s assistant, said he works hard and is devoted to his line of work.
“It’s hard to keep up with him because he’s busy 24/7,” she said.
She said Osterholm flew in from the United Arab Emirates late Monday and had a full slate of work on Tuesday.
“He probably hasn’t slept in three days, which is pretty typical,” she said.
Aggie Leitheiser, director of emergency preparedness at the Minnesota Department of Health , said she has worked with Osterholm before.
Leitheiser said in the case of a pandemic outbreak in Minnesota, they would be prepared, but things like pandemics tend not to work according to plan.
“We’re continually working on that,” she said. “But we have more to do.”
The federal government warns people about the dangers of an influenza pandemic , such as the avian flu. Although there have been no cases reported in the United States, there have been human cases reported across the world .
“If in fact the next pandemic does anything to interrupt trade and travel, then we’re not talking about people just getting sick and dying from influenza,” Osterholm said. “We’re also talking about a major interruption of a lot of other important aspects of our life.”
There have been past pandemic outbreaks that have affected the world. In 2003, there was an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the SARS outbreak infected more than 8,000 people worldwide and killed 774.
Osterholm said outbreaks like this could happen at any time.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said.