Epidemics: from the black death to postmodern pathogens and ebola in West Africa

November 18, 2014Byens Lys Copenhagen
Doors open: 19:00
Start programme: 20:00
Byens Lys
Fabriksområdet 99

What is an epidemic? What can be learned from studying epidemics? Can an epidemic wipe out the entire human population? What has happened in the past? Can we control epidemics?

Historically, outbreaks and epidemics of infectious diseases have had vast impact on societies. Important examples include massive epidemics of plaque such as the Black Death in 1348, the Spanish flu in 1918, and the great polio-epidemics in the 1950s. A lot of the knowledge we have about infectious diseases were obtained from well-conducted studies of outbreaks, and therefore every disease-outbreak represents not only a threat but also an opportunity to learn about the epidemiology and control of infectious diseases.

Some researchers thought that we could close the “book of infectious diseases” in the 1970’s. The battle against infections was perceived as over thanks to the high living standard in industrialized countries as well as the availability of antibiotics and vaccines. Then came hiv/AIDS, which completely changed the paradigm of infectious diseases – due to the dire links between a stealth infection, sex, blood, minority groups, and death. Then followed a series of other newly emerging or reemerging infections and it was realized that the war against infections is a never-ending story. Hence, the concept of emerging infectious diseases or “postmodern pathogens” were born. Most of these infections are of zoonotic nature, i.e., transmitted directly or indirectly from animals to humans. Foodborne outbreaks from salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and listeria made the ways to the news media, the world prepared against bird flu and pandemic influenza, and antimicrobial drug resistant bacteria was recognized as a threat to modern medicine as we see it today.

The emergence of hemorrhagic fever due to ebola virus in West Africa represents one of the most concerning, ongoing epidemics. Although we know how to stop ebola, the prospects of bringing the epidemic under control remains uncertain at this time. Kåre Mølbak will put the current epidemic into a historical context and will provide an assessment of the current status and possible scenarios for the future.

The evening continues with high class cocktails and _Portal_ playing magic surrealism, music for the unconscious and a rollercoaster in many different tempos.

Talk by

Kåre Mølbak

Kåre Mølbak is a medical doctor, researcher and director of the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the Statens Serum Institut (Copenhagen). His research focuses on epidemiology methods, gastrointestinal infections, food-borne diseases, zoonoses and flus.

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Music by


_Portal_ is an electronic, Danish impro-duo founded by Mathias Savery (piano) and Hasse Bruun (drums).