Edinburgh scientists identify pandemic threat viruses

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have released a list of over 30 viruses that are the most likely candidates to cause the next major pandemic.

In a report published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases scientists Professor Mark E J Woolhouse, Liam Brierley, Chris McCaffery and Dr Sam Lycett detail the methodology used to identify the 37 viruses that should be most closely monitored as potential pandemic threats.

“Of human transmissible virus, 37 species have so far been restricted to self-limiting outbreaks. These viruses are priorities for surveillance because relatively minor changes in their epidemiologies can potentially lead to major changes in the threat they pose to public health. On the basis of comparisons across all recognized human viruses, we consider the characteristics of these priority viruses and assess the likelihood that they will further emerge in human populations.”

The list includes well known viruses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Monkeypox and various strains of Ebola as well many less commonly recognised viruses such as Nipah, Oropouche and Venezuelan equine encephalitis.

The methodology used by the Edinburgh researchers to identify the most dangerous viruses has already predicted the threat of both the Ebola and Zika viruses before they emerged to cause major epidemics.

The viruses identified in the threat list are all zoonotic. These are disease viruses that normally exist in animals but may be transmitted from animals to humans.

The study concludes :

“The first line of defense against emerging viruses is effective surveillance. A better understanding of which kinds of viruses in which circumstances pose the greatest risk to human health would enable evidence-based targeting of surveillance efforts, which would reduce costs and increase probable effectiveness of this endeavor.”

The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust’s Vietnam Initiative on Zoonotic Infections and by the European Union COMPARE project.

SOURCE 1 : EID Journal – Assessing the Epidemic Potential of RNA and DNA Viruses [Dec ’16]

SOURCE 2 : University of Edinburgh – Pandemic infections predicted [05 Dec ’16]

NEWS COVERAGE : BBC – Scientists identify pandemic threat viruses [05 Dec ’16]