949 unknown infections: virus hunters find sources of new pandemics

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — In February 2018, consultations were held at the WHO headquarters in Geneva with the participation of the best virologists, mycologists, and microbiologists. The main task was to determine the list of diseases that in the coming years could lead to emergency situations in the healthcare sector.

The final shortlist includes: Congo-Crimean hemorrhagic fever, Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Marburg virus, Lassa fever, Nipah viruses, SARS and MERS, Rift Valley fever, Zika virus. Last mysterious “disease X”. And so, as she was described in The New York Times: “Disease X is likely to be a manifestation of a virus derived from animals, and will occur on our planet where economic development closely connects people and the animal world. At the beginning of the outbreak, it probably will be mistaken for other diseases and will spread quickly and quietly. Spreading along with movement of people and trade, it will reach many countries, and this will hinder its containment. Mortality from disease X will be higher than from seasonal flu, but it will spread as easily as the flu.

Now we understand that COVID-19, apparently, is the very disease X. Humanity will certainly draw conclusions from this situation. Need control, especially for animal infections. But how to provide it and how many more zoonotic viruses can cause a pandemic?

More than one and a half million viruses and animals alone transmit viruses, and at least 650 thousand of them can infect people.

The threat of new infections became apparent in the second half of the last century: more than 300 outbreaks since 1940. Moreover, the proportion of zoonotic diseases with each decade only grew. But the proportion of drugs that could cope with them, on the contrary, decreased.

In the 21st century, essentially nothing has changed, it has even become worse. SARS, MERS, Zika, Ebola, the same COVID-19 – all came from the wild. Today it is known that 60 percent of pathogens are of animal origin, but so far not enough attention has been paid to the problem, scientists say.

“The 21st century is a time of great epidemiological changes associated with overpopulation. Changes will appear both at the pandemic and at the epidemic level. Risks are increasing. And we are not ready for this,” said Dennis Carroll, head of the global Virome project.

Danger arises when a person invades the “forbidden territory”. Usually this is due to the industrial and agricultural development of new lands, the expansion of transport routes.

A good example is the Nipah virus. The first outbreak occurred in Malaysia in 1999. Pig farmers fell ill too far in the jungle. From flying foxes, the infection was transmitted to pigs, and from pigs to humans. Currently, the disease has also spread to India and Bangladesh. Mortality is up to 75 percent, and every fifth survivor is doomed to suffer further: incessant convulsions, paralysis, personality changes – so nature takes revenge on those who have stepped over the line. And how many more terrible pathogens have not yet announced themselves?

The answer to this question is now sought by several research groups at once. The international project Virom aims to describe the majority of zoonotic viruses: where on the planet their natural reservoir is located, how closely people are in contact with the vectors of infection, which pets are at risk of infection.

This will help to better assess the level of danger. In parallel, the Predict affiliate program searches for unknown pathogens. Over 10 years around the world, 949 were found.

The Predict program is looking for viruses that are about to move from animals to humans. That is, we are trying to identify the viruses before they cause epidemics in humans. This is the most important thing. Imagine if we would advance with this coronavirus if we knew the genomic sequence, then we would be ready to create a vaccine, “said Pranav Pandit, a researcher at the University of California Institute of Health and Veterinary Medicine at Davis.

However, the atlas of zoonoses alone will not protect against anything. It is necessary to study the possibilities, the habits of each disease.

In 2012, during experiments on ferrets, it was proved that the A / H5N1 avian influenza virus is able to be transmitted by airborne droplets between mammals, and for this it only needs 5 amino acid substitutions.

And recently, two new coronaviruses were found in Myanmar caves. Researchers must now establish their pandemic potential and advise the government on how to proceed. The work is hard, it requires huge investments. Yet it is cheaper than fighting epidemics.

Scientists give such calculations: an assessment of all the remaining viral threats will cost the world no more than a massive outbreak of Ebola somewhere in West Africa.

“There are models that prove the cost-effectiveness of such studies. All viruses can be divided into two large groups – these are DNA and RNA viruses. There are much more mutations in RNA viruses, and sometimes this leads to human infection. Among them there are especially dangerous, for example, filoviruses. The most interesting thing is that the project “Predict” was closed in September 2019 due to funding problems. And we were already preparing to turn off the work when there was an outbreak of coronavirus. Now the project has been extended for six months. But I think the project “Pre kt “and then will continue,” – said Pranav Pandit.

By the way, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted another serious problem. It’s about the smuggling of rare animals. There is a hypothesis that the intermediate carrier of coronavirus was pangolin, illegally imported into the territory of the Celestial Empire. These bizarre creations are the most popular goods in the black markets of Asia and not only. Now let’s imagine what would happen if an outbreak of a new infection occurred not in China, where the disease was immediately detected and notified to WHO, but in some other country, where would the pathogen spread unnoticed?

Perhaps by now no measures would have allowed him to be restrained. And this again brings us back to the need for an adequate assessment of viral threats.

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