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Medicine Science

Sizing Up the Viral Threat 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the keep-that-facemelting-plague-away-from-me dept.
sciencehabit writes "Ebola, HIV, influenza, MERS. Plenty of animal viruses cause devastating diseases in humans. But nature might have many more in store. In a new study, U.S. researchers estimate that there are more than 320,000 unknown viruses lurking in mammals alone (abstract). Identifying all the viruses in mammals would be a huge boon to scientists and epidemiologists, Daszak says. If an animal virus begins spreading to humans, they could use the new sequences to quickly pinpoint its source. In the lab, they could study the newfound viruses to see which are most likely to jump to humans and then prepare vaccines or drugs, he says. 'It would be the beginning of the end for pandemics.' A complete viral inventory would also carry a hefty price tag: about $6.3 billion, the authors estimate. 'But you have to put that into perspective,' says Daszak, pointing to the 2003 SARS outbreak. That pandemic alone is estimated to have cost between $15 billion and $50 billion in economic losses."
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Sizing Up the Viral Threat

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  • Smaller set? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:14PM (#44751399)

    Since most viruses seem to hop from common mammals or birds (cow, pig, chicken, etc. - e.g., "Guns Germs Steel"), have we at least indexed those already?

  • Do I really need to bore you all with my cat flu story again?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:16PM (#44751415)

    If an animal virus begins spreading to humans, they could use the new sequences to quickly pinpoint its source.

    And quickly verify that patient zero was a virologist.

  • Vaccines... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:16PM (#44751419)

    That's all fine and dandy and all, but remember, people are getting so stupid that they think vaccines are more sinister than the viral diseases they can prevent. Lets solve the problem of stupid people first, or just let them all die of measles++.

  • When Not If (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wrackspurt (3028771) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:17PM (#44751423)
    It's not really a question of if we'll complete such an inventory but when. A few days ago /. ran a story on the myth of STEM human resources being scarce, so it's not like we lack the people or the resources. It's just a question of allocation. Over our short personal lifespans we see so much that should be done and think it should be done ASAP, but really, if you look at the enormous strides we've made in the last 100 years, or more to the point, the last 50 years we've surpassed all previous human eras of progressive achievement. The Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment pale by comparison.
  • by msauve (701917) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:18PM (#44751429)
    "A complete viral inventory would also carry a hefty price tag: about $6.3 billion, the authors estimate."

    Better hurry, since if we wait 10 or 20 years, that price tag might only be a couple of million. Think of the authors, who have new shoes to buy!

    Life's a risk, you live, you die. Society can't handle the costs of current increases to lifetimes. Extending lives is not a de facto good thing.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Better hurry, since if we wait 10 or 20 years, that price tag might only be a couple of million.

      Maybe they already took that into account. Analogies fail me at the moment, but I can just picture them spending years building up this huge inventory only to look back and see most of them have either disappeared or mutated in unexpected ways, so they have to start all over again.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Also in 10 or 20 years that could be as outdated as the ENIAC. Not sure about viruses, but at least bacterias had been very successful developing antibiotic resistance, specially with the abuse we are doing with antibiotics and antibacterials agents. And new findings will lead to more ways to protect yourself (and knowing economics, will be sold as much as possible, leading to abuses), and so more ways to adapt around those protections.
    • by khallow (566160)

      Society can't handle the costs of current increases to lifetimes.

      Fortunately, there are benefits as well to current increases in lifespan. Those benefits are considerable enough to offset the costs.

      • by msauve (701917)
        References? Getting old so you can get Alzheimers or other forms of dementia, or simply be a non-productive burden on an "entitlement" society, is good?
        • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @08:03PM (#44752085)

          Getting old so you can get Alzheimers or other forms of dementia, or simply be a non-productive burden on an "entitlement" society, is good?

          When does that occur? According to this book [google.com], the incident of dementia increases at great age. Only 5% of people over the age of 65 have clinical dementia. This goes up to almost 50% at age 95. It significantly increases when one gets past the mean lifespan for a person. I suspect that if we had done this study at the beginning of the last century, we'd see that far lower ages would have similar dementia rates (say subtracting twenty years off).

          • If you don't have any references to support your position, just say so, instead of trying to change the discussion.
          • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

            When does that occur? According to this book [google.com], the incident of dementia increases at great age. Only 5% of people over the age of 65 have clinical dementia. This goes up to almost 50% at age 95. It significantly increases when one gets past the mean lifespan for a person.

            Talk about not getting it. Consider the end result, not the numerical years.

            • by khallow (566160)

              Consider the end result

              The end result is that you die either way. Since the end result doesn't change, then it's not useful as a means of distinguishing between choices.

              • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                Consider the end result

                The end result is that you die either way. Since the end result doesn't change, then it's not useful as a means of distinguishing between choices.

                My goal is to live as long as possible as sentient and self reliant as possible. My fear is that some set of circumstances may not allow me to make my choice. After watching parents and others have their assets drained while they were kept alive by some odd and intensive measures - like an Alzehiemer's patient's dementia being dragged out by drugs that slow the progression, but not do a thing about the dementia itself - in other words they still didn't know who they or anyone around them, even if it did mak

                • by khallow (566160)

                  If you think that there is no distinguishing between choices of slow lingering death with 24/7 nursing care, and an admittedly shorter lifespan, but circumventing that lingering decline,

                  That's not an end result. Thus, it doesn't have a special consideration over other things, such as the number of years of good health.

                  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                    That's not an end result. Thus, it doesn't have a special consideration over other things, such as the number of years of good health.

                    Seriously? My Mother in law spent the last ten years not knowing who or where she was. Her body was kept alive those last ten years. For all practical purposes, the "her" of who she was died shortly before she was put in the home.

                    And most very respectfully it has the entirety of my consideration over other things. You may not like that, but you cannot determine what my consideration is.

                    • by khallow (566160)

                      Seriously? My Mother in law spent the last ten years not knowing who or where she was. Her body was kept alive those last ten years. For all practical purposes, the "her" of who she was died shortly before she was put in the home.

                      And most very respectfully it has the entirety of my consideration over other things. You may not like that, but you cannot determine what my consideration is.

                      Ok, but your consideration means little to me. There's always sad stories to support whatever you desire. How many peoples' lives and whose lives should we end prematurely to prevent something like what happened to your mother?

                    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

                      Ok, but your consideration means little to me. There's always sad stories to support whatever you desire. How many peoples' lives and whose lives should we end prematurely to prevent something like what happened to your mother?

                      Mother in law, not mother. Termination of life should be up to the individual,or family, not "We". Because when "We" get involved, we end up with Terry Schiavo, And we end up with presidents flying home to prevent a woman who's brain was replaced with cerebrospinal fluid and was totally maintained by machinery. Funny how politics works.

                      Considering the completely immoral political intervention in what should have been a privat family affair, and the Katriina hurricane happening around the same time, and

        • or simply be a non-productive burden on an "entitlement" society

          Good point. If you like, we can make sure you never make it to that stage of your life. Power of example and all.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Runner! BZAPP

      • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

        Fortunately, there are benefits as well to current increases in lifespan. Those benefits are considerable enough to offset the costs.

        Well, Nursing home profits are through the roof. Senile people need places to live.

        But in all seriousness, if you've ever seen the inside of these places, with people spending the last 10-15 years of their lives in diapers, drooling and not knowing who they or their relatives are, I'd take an earlier death rather than an extra 15 years as a dementia patient.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I'd take an earlier death rather than an extra 15 years as a dementia patient.

          False dichotomy. Indeed, if you extend your life, you're probably also improving your health in earlier stages. You can just commit suicide when you're done, if you have the intestinal fortitude.

          • You can just commit suicide when you're done, if you have the intestinal fortitude.

            Not if you want your life insurance to pay out.

            • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

              Not if you want your life insurance to pay out.

              Yeah, because that 10 thousand dollar llfe insurance policy matches up well to the healthcare system draining your bank account and throwing you and your family into bankruptcy.

              The problem with the years we've added to our lifespan aretwofold. One is that people die from a lot less accidents, so on average, it makes everyone live longer. The second is that the real part of that extension of average lifespan is all on the wrong end - extreme old age. If I could have an extra 30 years of my 20s and 30's -

          • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

            I'd take an earlier death rather than an extra 15 years as a dementia patient.

            False dichotomy. Indeed, if you extend your life, you're probably also improving your health in earlier stages. You can just commit suicide when you're done, if you have the intestinal fortitude.

            Silly Drinkypoo - sorry, that's just fun to say - I think I'm going to nickname my wife "Silly DrinkyPoo" - I offer that as possibilities, not an either or situation. Everyone obviously dies of something If I had a massive heart attack, I wouldn't exactly be happy about it, but as I winked out, I would probably consider that a better end than what some reletives have gone through.

        • by cusco (717999)
          My grandmother died with Alzheimer's a few years ago, and my grandfather is 94 and will be in a nursing home the rest of his life. Rosa and I decided quite a while ago that when life isn't fun any more then it's time for it to end. I sometimes wonder how many cases of elderly people driving off a cliff or into a river are actually suicides.
    • Life's a risk, you live, you die.

      There is no risk - it's guaranteed you'll die.

      BTW, are you a consistent fellow who thinks we should abandon all public health and safety measures, since life's a risk and we're all going to die anyway?

      Society can't handle the costs of current increases to lifetimes.

      Cite? Calculation?

      • There is no risk - it's guaranteed you'll die.

        BTW, are you a consistent fellow who thinks we should abandon all public health and safety measures, since life's a risk and we're all going to die anyway?

        Well, that sheds a little light into your ... thinking.

    • by kermidge (2221646)

      While it took money to write the algorithms and manage the projects, the use of World Community Grid for the genome comparison project and human proteome folding one and two got a lot of work done affordably, according to the projects' authors. I'd think similar approach could help here.

    • by delt0r (999393)
      Speak for yourself. I intend to live forever, or die trying.
  • Wishful Thinking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:20PM (#44751441) Homepage Journal

    In the lab, they could study the newfound viruses to see which are most likely to jump to humans and then prepare vaccines or drugs, he says. 'It would be the beginning of the end for pandemics.'

    No, it would just be yet another volley in the endless war of attrition that is the evolution of species... but I like your optimism.

    • Re:Wishful Thinking (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @07:13PM (#44751779)

      We aren't playing by the rules any more. We're _thinking_ about how to eradicate disease. In one generation we can come up with a plan, execute it, and see if it worked, whereas evolution takes many generations for each phase.

      Multicellular parasites probably took millions of years to figure out how to parasatise our distant ancestors, and have been evolving along with us ever since... until the last couple of centuries when we've begun systematically killing them off. Guinea Worm is almost gone for example, there are less Guinea Worms (we're their only adult stage host) than there are tigers in the world and while we're actively protecting tigers we have a multi-million dollar world programme to drive the Guinea Worm extinct.

      Most diseases targeted for world eradication today are human diseases, there are half a dozen or so, plus we already killed off one human (Smallpox) and one non-human (Rinderpest) disease organism. But in the richer industrialised countries where dozens of illnesses were already eradicated (we almost got Measles, if not for the stupid half-fit antivacc people we'd have done it in Europe and North America) there are also cattle and pet diseases being wiped out.

      • But, but, but ... you don't understand! Wise and thoughtful Slashdot posters realize we'll never be completely successful, so let's not toot our horns about what we have done.

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        You're not with the party line. God created all those diseases in six days. You want to go up against God? It takes us years to wipe out a disease and he can have a new one for you in six days.
      • by rmstar (114746)

        We aren't playing by the rules any more. We're _thinking_ about how to eradicate disease. In one generation we can come up with a plan, execute it, and see if it worked, whereas evolution takes many generations for each phase.

        There are no rules. The game is called "survival of the fittest", and that really is it.

        • We aren't playing by the rules any more. We're _thinking_ about how to eradicate disease. In one generation we can come up with a plan, execute it, and see if it worked, whereas evolution takes many generations for each phase.

          There are no rules. The game is called "survival of the fittest", and that really is it.

          Came to give this exact same response, thanks for beating me to it.

          Disease control is just like security - every time someone builds a better lock, someone else comes along and builds a better lockpick. Only in this case, "someone else" is the entire universe.

  • Hey, I have a great idea. Let spend lots of money because some "scientists" claim to have a count of something they also say is unknown. And lets give them that money to "study the newfound viruses to see which are most likely to jump to humans". I'm sure that could never end up being abused.
  • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:30PM (#44751501)

    So when a new disease presents itself we can identify it, sequence it, compare that sequence to a library to find out what animal it probably came from, then use the sequence to make a vaccine.

    OR

    When a new disease presents itself we can identify it, sequence it, then use the sequence to make a vaccine. It seems like the library only helps to find the animal it originated in, and we don't really seem to have trouble doing that quickly for most of the big, pandemic-causing viruses.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm pretty sure you can't just "use the sequence to make the vaccine".

      • by Shavano (2541114)
        Definitely not, or we'd have had a vaccine for everything that we thought was a priority years ago. HIV, anyone?
    • by cusco (717999)
      Doesn't actually work that way, it's very difficult to predict what the immune system's reaction to a particular sequence of proteins will be, and even more difficult to predict how efficient that response will be. If we can look at the animal where the disease originated, such as a pig, and see how the pig's immune system had developed appropriate responses and what their efficacy is **THEN** we'll have an idea what our vaccine needs to look like.
      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        I'm not an expert in vaccines so I'll ask: are you making that up? Because it certainly sounds like you are. I don't see how knowing the reservoir would help you make anything but a subunit vaccine, and despite the obvious advantages those haven't exactly taken over. Not to mention if you want one fast you're not going to screw around with subunits. If you DID want to do that for some reason, as I said before, it doesn't seem to take long to find the reservoir in most pandemic situations.

        A dictionary of

  • by labnet (457441)

    Thats less than a months expenditure for the United States military middle east operations.
    They don't call it the Military Industrial Complex for nothing.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:56PM (#44751667)
    Just look at the oceans! [virology.ws]. If mammals only host ~3e5 unknown viruses, that's nothing.
  • Taxonomy isn't a field that all scientists wish they could work in.

    Good luck trying to get high school science students interested in the concept of biological classification.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The smart money isn't on the researchers, because the sheer
    numbers alone favor the occurrence of a virus which might just be
    the golden bullet in terms of its ability to spread combined with its
    morbidity.

    And today more than ever, with air travel and international shipping of
    things like chicken and meat, the virus has a better chance of finding
    new hosts in widespread areas than it ever had before.

    The US and other countries WILL regret importing food from China,
    mark my words well and remember them when you bur

  • by swell (195815) <jabberwock@NOSpam.poetic.com> on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:52AM (#44753605)

    "A complete viral inventory would also carry a hefty price tag: about $6.3 billion"

    Who wants to pay for that? Government? Private industry? The Gates Foundation? It's a major gamble for an uncertain reward. When you do the numbers it just doesn't make sense.

    Economics aside, the human factor says it should be done. Assuming that ever larger numbers of humans on our planet is desirable. Is this what we want? I, for one, am willing to sacrifice your existence if it leads to a better world.

The two most common things in the Universe are hydrogen and stupidity. -- Harlan Ellison

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