What Will It Take to Prevent Future Pandemics?
Beyond COVID-19, there are innumerable other animal-borne viruses that could become new human viruses capable of causing global devastation. But not nearly enough is being done to identify the riskiest.
FAIRFIELD COUNTY, CONNECTICUT – Although COVID-19 restrictions are rapidly fading around the world, we are still reeling from the impact of the past three years. More than 6.8 million deaths from COVID-19 have been officially reported, but the true number may be closer to 15 million. There has been immense suffering and social and economic turmoil, and the virus itself still poses a clear and present risk, with one in five Americans reporting ongoing “long COVID” symptoms.
Worse, COVID-19 is far from the last zoonotic disease with the potential to devastate the global population. Innumerable other viruses – many of which remain understudied – have been discovered in animals. Any of them could serve as a source of new human viruses, which often originate from repeat-offender virus families such as coronaviruses, orthomyxoviruses, and filoviruses. When viruses from these families show up in mammals or birds, there is always a risk that they could develop the potential to infect humans. And when that happens, the fact of globalization means that those viruses can spread faster than ever before.
A key challenge, then, is to discover and identify which viruses pose the greatest risks to humans. If we can detect a new human virus in the earliest days of a disease outbreak, we will have a much better chance of implementing the measures needed to prevent another global pandemic. To that end, a recent article in Science proposes setting up an experimental pipeline whereby researchers can test animal viruses for four crucial properties consistent with human infection.
To continue reading, register now.
Subscribe now for unlimited access to everything PS has to offer.
As a registered user, you can enjoy more PS content every month – for free.
Already have an account? Log in