New viral respiratory pathogens are emerging with increasing frequency and have potentially devastating impacts on the population worldwide. Recent examples of newly emerged threats include severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Experiences with these pathogens have shown up major deficiencies in how we deal globally with emerging pathogens and taught us salient lessons in what needs to be addressed for future pandemics. This article reviews the lessons learnt from past experience and current knowledge on the range of measures required to limit the impact of emerging respiratory infections from public health responses down to individual patient management. Key areas of interest are surveillance programs, political limitations on our ability to respond quickly enough to emerging threats, media management, public information dissemination, infection control, prophylaxis, and individual patient management. Respiratory physicians have a crucial role to play in many of these areas and need to be aware of how to respond as new viral pathogens emerge.