Bill Gates warns of bio-terrorism catastrophe

Bill Gates has warned a deadly pandemic capable of killing tens of thousands could be started by a terrorist armed with a computer and knowledge of genetic engineering.

The Microsoft co-founder said being prepared for a global pandemic was as vital as nuclear deterrence and said the threat of a deadly, highly contagious disease came not just from terrorism, but also from nature.

Speaking at a Munich security conference, Mr Gates, warned: “We ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril.”

The philanthropist, who has spent billions of dollars supporting health initiatives worldwide, said: “The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus - or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu.

“Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.”

He added: “It’s hard to get your mind around a catastrophe of that scale, but it happened not that long ago. In 1918, a particularly virulent and deadly strain of flu killed between 50 million and 100 million people.

“And even if the next pandemic isn’t on the scale of the 1918 flu, we would be wise to consider the social and economic turmoil that might ensue if something like Ebola made its way into urban centres.”