Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Says We Can Beat COVID-19 But …

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant warned us of a pandemic back in 2006. Fourteen years later we are faced with COVID-19, but he believes we can beat it if we just get more testing.

Larry Brilliant Image Source:

Fourteen years ago, Larry Brilliant did a TED talk where he described Smallpox, his part in eradicating it, and what the next pandemic would look like. “Smallpox was the worst disease in history … It killed 500 million people” he said.

“When we didn’t search, we had the illusion that there was no disease … When we did search, we had the illusion that there was more disease”. Larry Brilliant worst fears have become a reality, as we are faced with what he believes to be the “most dangerous pandemic in our lifetime”.

The Australian Department of Health state that COVID-19 or Coronavirus is an “infectious disease that causes respiratory illness”. This causes symptoms such as a “cough, fever, and in more severe cases, difficulty breathing”. The latest we are being told to help stop the spread is to “practice good hygiene, practice social distancing”. The Department of Health is continuing to issue health alerts and information via their website.

Globally, the WHO states that Coronavirus “spreads primarily through contact with an infected person”. This can be when they “cough, sneeze or touch a surface or object that has the virus, then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth”.

Belgian virologist Guido Vanham has this to say:

“Why this particular virus is much more infectious than other related viruses is something we still do not know … Not every human is equally susceptible … There are always people in a population who are more or less susceptible to a certain virus”.

As COVID-19 spread to 197 countries and territories around the world, the World Health Organisation labelled it a pandemic. Parts of Asia and Europe have been hit the hardest, recording the highest rates of infections. Countries like China, Italy and the USA have the most confirmed cases and deaths. This can be tracked in real time at

Virologist using a microscope Image Source:

The result is global economic uncertainty, damage to our economy, and the revelation of inadequate health care systems. Just as Larry Brilliant foretold back in 2006:

“There’d be a pandemic within your children or your grandchildren’s lifetime…165 million people would die, there’d be a global recession, people would lose their jobs and their healthcare benefits”.

You may be thinking this sounds like an idea for a futuristic horror movie, but unfortunately it has become a reality for some, and continues to be a possibility for others. But it is not all bad news, for Larry Brilliant believes the way we can beat COVID-19 is with more robust and widespread testing. He believes that we can beat COVID-19 the same way we beat Smallpox. “The key to eradicating smallpox was early detection, early response” he said.

Where countries are adopting Brilliant’s approach,  there are initial signs of success in beating the pandemic. South Korea is the most glowing example, with a decline in the number of new coronavirus cases to as low as 74 and 76 each day since Since 11 March— a huge shift from 909 cases on 29th Feb. And they remain vigilant; with a current testing capacity of 20,000 people a day at 633 sites, including drive-thru centers and even phone booths. Hwang Seung-Sik, of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Public Health, stated emphatically that “acting fast was the most important decision South Korea made.”

Paul Auwaerter, director of Hopkins’ division of infectious diseases adds that the sharing of expertise across nations and disciplines is vital at this time.

“When facing a global crisis, sharing of medical and scientific information is invaluable if we are to save lives and halt the pandemic as quickly as possible.” – Paul Auwaerter

As U.S. doctors turn to colleagues in China, we see other countries doing the same, working together to gain further insight into COVID-19. But for now, following protective measures implemented by the WHO and with hopefully more frequent testing, we will slow down and flatten “the curve” of infection rates. As Larry Brilliant says:

“We’re not going to decrease the total number of cases, but only postpone many cases…until we get a vaccine … which we will”.

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