New report suggests airborne viruses most likely cause of future pandemics

May 16, 2018 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new report generated by a team at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests we might be fearing the wrong types of viruses. Instead of worrying about Ebola or Zika, the report contends, we should be worrying about airborne infections because they pose a greater risk of pandemic.

The media tends to focus more heavily on epidemics that involve patients with horrible symptoms, such as those caused by Ebola. But according to the report, such viruses are not likely to be the ones involved in the next big pandemic—if there is one. After studying the most likely scenario surrounding a , the team found that it will likely involve an RNA virus—a type of that has RNA as part of its genetic makeup. Such viruses are typically airborne and mutate quickly, allowing them to change to a form that could kill millions.

To address the possibility of a future pandemic, the researchers took a new approach. Rather than relying on lists of viruses that are already known to pose a risk, they began their study by ignoring past history and conventional wisdom. Instead, they took a logical approach, systematically narrowing down factors that could lead to a widespread outbreak. The also looked closely at results from studies and interviewed over 120 experts in the field. They identified several traits that a future pandemic-causing pathogen would likely have: It would have to be able to spread before a victim shows signs of infection, it would have to be something to which most people are not immune, and it would require a low fatality rate. They also noted that it would likely not be preventable or treatable. RNA viruses are the closest match, they point out. RNA viruses include those that cause the flu and the common cold, and also SARS and other respiratory ailments.

The researchers conclude their report, titled "The Characteristics of Pandemic Pathogens," by making suggestions to ward off a . They caution that a better system of surveillance is required—one that would include such things as hospitals clearly identifying pathogens when a patient has symptoms that are commonly chalked up to cold, flu or pneumonia. The also recommends a stronger effort to develop drugs against all RNA viruses, not just the flu.

Explore further: Data gathering can't prevent a new influenza pandemic

More information: Report: www.centerforhealthsecurity.or … pathogens-report.pdf

Related Stories

Data gathering can't prevent a new influenza pandemic

March 22, 2018
Commenting on a new BBC Four programme, Contagion, presenting the results of an on-going citizen-scientist experiment investigating how a new influenza pandemic might spread across the UK, influenza expert Dr. Jeremy Rossman ...

Experts pinpoint more than 30 infections as likely candidates for the next major pandemic

December 6, 2016
Experts have pinpointed more than 30 infections that are likely candidates for the next major pandemic.

ID'ing features of flu virus genome may help target surveillance for pandemic flu

January 31, 2018
The current influenza outbreak—the worst across the United States in nearly a decade—is worrisome but still far less dire than a pandemic flu, which could kill millions. Such pandemics are exceedingly difficult to predict, ...

Scientists 'must not become complacent' when assessing pandemic threat from flu viruses

October 15, 2014
As our ability to assess the pandemic risk from strains of influenza virus increases with the latest scientific developments, we must not allow ourselves to become complacent that the most substantial threats have been identified, ...

Flu simulations suggest pandemics more likely in spring, early summer

October 19, 2017
New statistical simulations suggest that Northern Hemisphere flu pandemics are most likely to emerge in late spring or early summer at the tail end of the normal flu season, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational ...

New method helps fighting future pandemics

July 6, 2017
By developing a new technique for labeling the gene segments of influenza viruses, researchers now know more about how influenza viruses enter the cell and establish cell co-infections – a major contributing factor to ...

Recommended for you

Infants born to obese mothers risk developing liver disease, obesity

November 16, 2018
Infant gut microbes altered by their mother's obesity can cause inflammation and other major changes within the baby, increasing the risk of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease later in life, according to researchers ...

New study shows NKT cell subsets play a large role in the advancement of NAFLD

November 16, 2018
Since 2015 it has been known that the gut microbiota could have a direct impact on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects up to 12% of adults and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease. In the November ...

Antibiotic prescribing influenced by team dynamics within hospitals

November 15, 2018
Antibiotic prescribing by doctors is influenced by team dynamics and cultures within hospitals.

Zika may hijack mother-fetus immunity route

November 14, 2018
To cross the placenta, Zika virus may hijack the route by which acquired immunity is transferred from mother to fetus, new research suggests.

New research aims to help improve uptake of hepatitis C testing

November 14, 2018
New research published in Scientific Reports shows persisting fears about HIV infection may impact testing uptake for the hepatitis C Virus (HCV).

Maternally acquired Zika immunity can increase dengue disease severity in mouse pups

November 14, 2018
To say that the immune system is complex is an understatement: an immune response protective in one context can turn deadly over time, as evidenced by numerous epidemiological studies on dengue infection, spanning multiple ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet May 16, 2018
I know this is just a trivial thing but; is it just me or does the title;

"New report suggests airborne viruses most likely cause of future pandemics"

sound as if it is confusing present tense with future tense?
Personally I feel it should be;

"New report suggests airborne viruses most likely will cause future pandemics"


"New report suggests future pandemics most likely will be caused by airborne viruses"
2 / 5 (1) May 16, 2018
hunny, based on this article I agree that your second choice of headline is more accurate.

"New report suggests future pandemics most likely will be caused by airborne viruses"

However, I disagree with the premise implied by this article. For a potentially dangerous micro-organism to become lethal? It won't just be floating around in the air, basking in the sunshine.

Humans and our diseases have an ancient, intimate relationship. If airborne was sufficient? The hurricanes every year from Africa would have eradicated the American indigenous long before those dirty savages from Europe showed up!

No, it is our own farming practices and urbanization that are the petri dish for mutating diseases. As well as providing all-to-efficient means of distribution, human to human.

This clickbait headline will rile up the nutcases who blame their chronic ills on aircraft crews deliberately spreading germ warfare via aircraft contrails.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.