Biological factors predict which viruses will cause human epidemics

March 21, 2016
A TEM micrograph showing Dengue virus virions (the cluster of dark dots near the center). Image: CDC

The identification of biological factors that predict which viruses are most likely to spread among humans could help prevent and contain outbreaks, a study in today's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

Most emerging infections arise from the transmission of from animals to humans, but don't result in the sustained -to-human transmission necessary to cause an epidemic. The early detection of capable of efficient transmission among humans is therefore critical for pandemic planning.

To address this issue, a team from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre compiled and analysed a database of 203 human viruses and used statistical models to identify that predict which viruses are most likely to successfully emerge in human populations.

"The probability of human-to-human transmission was increased by low host mortality and the ability to survive in the host for an extended time, both of which allow a virus more time to spread," said the paper's lead author, Dr Jemma Geoghegan. "A good example of this is polyomaviruses - a family of viruses that infect humans but which rarely cause symptoms or illness.

"In contrast, viruses that possess a particular structure called an 'envelope' seem less able to emerge in humans because they are more easily degradable and not environmentally stable. In the same way, viruses that are transmitted by insect vectors, such as mosquitoes, are also less likely to spread among humans. So, although diseases like dengue and Zika have received a great deal of attention, they are very much the exception rather than the rule," she added.

According to the authors, these biological factors could be used to predict which viruses are more likely to cause epidemics, enabling to take appropriate measures to prevent and contain these outbreaks.

Explore further: Study in bats and rodents offers insights on how viruses spread across species

More information: Virological factors that increase the transmissibility of emerging human viruses, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1521582113

Related Stories

New virus transmission route discovered in pigs

February 23, 2016

Japanese Encephalitis (JE) virus causes serious inflammation of the brain in people and fertility problems in pigs. Mosquitoes were previously the only known transmission route. However, the virus can also be spread from ...

New SARS-like virus is poised to infect humans

March 14, 2016

A SARS-like virus found in Chinese horseshoe bats may be poised to infect humans without the need for adaptation, overcoming an initial barrier that could potentially set the stage for an outbreak according to a study at ...

Recommended for you

0 comments

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.