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Medicine Science

Sizing Up the Viral Threat 78

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?

  • Re:Smaller set? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @06:39PM (#44751559)
    Nope. We haven't even gotten a reasonable index of the various varieties of influenza, either porcine or avian. For that matter, I'm not really sure they've managed to collect all the different varieties of flu extant just in humans.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Tuesday September 03, 2013 @07:02PM (#44751705)

    but at least bacterias had been very successful developing antibiotic resistance

    Which might be precisely the motivation to further our knowledge in the field of virology - even resistant bacteria can be killed with targeted phage therapy.

  • 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.

  • 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 [], 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).

From Sharp minds come... pointed heads. -- Bryan Sparrowhawk