Research Highlights: Predicting Future Pandemic is Difficult, Scientists Only Know A Little Bit of the Viral World

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Predicting Future Pandemic is Difficult, Scientists Only Know A Little Bit of the Viral World

April 20, 2021

  • Identifying the origin of viruses that can be transmitted from animals to humans is central to understanding the determinants of disease emergence.
  • Attempts for animal-to-human disease risk assessment have grown in popularity.
  • These types of assessments are considered important when preparing for a pandemic.
  • However, such assessments are affected by the lack of data and may be questionable.
  • Most of the viruses remain unknown and the total number has been estimated a couple of times.
  • Scientists predicted that the total number of mammalian viruses is about 320,000.
  • A more recent study revealed that the total number could be around 40,000, of which 10,000 can be transmitted to humans.
  • The estimates suggest that we only know a little bit of the viral world.
  • Virological data are also biased towards viruses that affect our socioeconomics.
  • A more recent large-scale study of wildlife revealed a very large number and diversity of novel viruses.
  • Researchers revealed that the virological data are incomplete, biased, and quickly changing with ongoing virus discovery.
  • These deficiencies suggest that studies for animal-to-human disease risk using virological data can be inaccurate.
  • Additionally, these largely only identify host taxa that have been examined most considerably.
  • This study highlights the infancy of viral discovery and that prediction for future pandemics using current data can be difficult.

Source:

Wille M, Geoghegan JL, Holmes EC (2021) How accurately can we assess zoonotic risk? PLoS Biol 19(4): e3001135. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3001135

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