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Infectious disease expert answers 3 big questions about 2019 novel coronavirus

An expert on infectious diseases answers some big-picture questions about the deadly disease the world is fighting now.

HOUSTON — As the world continues to fight the 2019 novel coronavirus, an expert on infectious diseases says there will be others.

Dr. Gerald Parker, associate dean for Global One Health, at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, spent years working for different federal agencies, focusing on biodefense, emerging infectious diseases and public preparedness trends, including anthrax response, H1N1 pandemic flu and the Ebola outbreak.

We wanted to ask him several big picture questions about the deadly disease the world is fighting now.

Is the United States prepared to handle the threat like the novel coronavirus?

"The answer to that is no, we are much better prepared than we have been. But we are concerned that the United States and the international community remains dangerously vulnerable to pandemics and emerging infectious diseases," Parker said. "We're doing a good job, but we haven't been overwhelmed and I’m slightly concerned about [that]suddenly we start seeing more cases in the United States. Wouldn't take too long to be overwhelmed."

What do you need to know?

"You don't need to panic right now. The risk at the moment remains low in our communities," Parker said. "But take this opportunity to educate yourself about emerging infectious diseases and the things that you can do to protect yourself, to protect your family."

Will the coronavirus have an economic impact on the US?

"I don't think many people realize, but upwards of 80 percent of the active product ingredients that go into many pharmaceuticals, many drugs and biologics are actually sourced in China," he said. “And so with the factories and so forth being shut down for an extended period of time in China, that could have an impact."

Parker and a number of his A&M colleagues published a paper this week on the very subject, “The silent threat of the coronavirus: America’s dependence on Chinese pharmaceuticals.

Looking to the future Parker said the world must be prepared for the next disease, being able to fight it anywhere it occurs. 

“We cannot be complacent about emerging infectious diseases anymore,” Parker said. 

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