Thursday, 30 November 2017 16:32

ASM Contributes to New Smithsonian Exhibition Exploring Pandemics and Emerging Infectious Diseases

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Published in ASM News

Washington, DC – November 30, 2017 – The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History will mark the anniversary of the Great Influenza pandemic with a new exhibition, “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World,” which will open May 18 and remain on view for three years. The Great Influenza pandemic took the lives of 50–100 million people in 1918—between 3 and 5 percent of the world’s population at that time. This exhibition will examine the human ecology of epidemics. From the Nipah virus to SARS and HIV, it will show how viruses can spread from animals to people, why some outbreaks become epidemics and how people in different disciplines and countries are working together to stop them.

“The ASM is excited to team up with the Smithsonian to help people understand the global impact of infectious diseases. Scientific research plays an integral role in mitigating the threats of infectious disease through vaccine development and cutting edge treatment. From Ebola to Zika to the flu, our members work every day to help dozens of nations prevent and respond to emerging infectious diseases,” said Stefano Bertuzzi, CEO, American Society for Microbiology.

Because outbreaks are a global health threat, ASM will assist the museum in providing a “pop-up” version of the exhibition that communities worldwide can print and display. The pop-up includes guidelines and templates for translation and customization, providing effective communication tools about infectious diseases to raise awareness about pandemic risks.

“‘Outbreak’ spotlights the human causes of infectious-disease epidemics, such as land-use change, urbanization and industrialized food production, as well as their consequences for communities, societies and the global population,” said Sabrina Sholts, lead curator of the exhibition and curator in the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology. “Understanding how we can prevent zoonotic viruses like Ebola, Zika and influenza from emerging and quickly spreading around the world—recognizing that human, animal and environmental health are connected as ‘One Health’—is a critical science lesson for the 21st century.”

The exhibition will explore:

The origins of zoonotic diseases. Since the rise of domestication, human interactions with other animals have increased and changed. Today, three-quarters of all new infectious diseases affecting humans originate in animals, and “Outbreak” will focus on how they spill over, spread and how they can be contained.

Humans’ role in spreading animal-borne viruses. “Outbreak” will look at the effects of habitat fragmentation and diversity loss, urbanization and global travel on increasing the risks of zoonotic-disease emergence and highlight the role of scientific research and behavior change in lowering risks of disease transmission.

How outbreaks are handled. Future outbreaks are certain to occur. The exhibition introduces people who play many different roles in the global fight against epidemics, from identifying their animal origins to developing vaccines and interventions to help prevent the next one.


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The American Society for Microbiology is the largest single life science society, composed of more than 50,000 scientists and health professionals. ASM's mission is to promote and advance the microbial sciences.

ASM advances the microbial sciences through conferences, publications, certifications and educational opportunities. It enhances laboratory capacity around the globe through training and resources. It provides a network for scientists in academia, industry and clinical settings. Additionally, ASM promotes a deeper understanding of the microbial sciences to diverse audiences.

Last modified on Thursday, 30 November 2017 17:37

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