COVID-19 is a pandemic that never had to happen. To prevent another—or one even worse—we have to internalize a simple lesson about life on earth that we tend to forget. Nature, for all its beauty and wonder, is out to get us. We must use our intellect and technology to prepare, predict and act swiftly in the face of what is a continuing threat to our life and livelihood.

We live in a sea of viruses. They have been a part of life since the beginning. These tiniest of all life forms adapt to exploit every available ecological niche. We humans, now numbering in the many billions, packed into cities and traveling the globe in ever increasing numbers, provide a target rich opportunity. Viruses have adapted to our way of life, learned how to crack our defensive code, invade our cells, and take full advantage of our weaknesses. 

These microscopic organisms don’t just attack the human body; they attack all the systems we’ve built to sustain modern life, including our complex, interlinked economies. As our systems have evolved, so too have our viruses, producing the likes of the smallpox, 1918 flu, Polio and HIV/AIDS. Now, we have COVID-19, and if we aren’t careful, it will be here to stay.

The current era is the culmination of decades of rapid demographic, technological, and cultural change. What we call the twenty-first century is yet another environment in which viruses mutate, adapt and thrive.

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Originally published on Forbes (April 21, 2020)