Friday, August 15, 2014

Ebola highlights growing global virus threat

Mariette Le Roux and Elisabeth Zingg in Medical Press:  Like the Spanish flu, polio, AIDS, and SARS before it, Ebola has erupted from seemingly nowhere to claim lives and sow fear of a catastrophic global outbreak.

While experts say the current epidemic is unlikely to become global, they warn of ever more viral outbreaks in future as increasing numbers of globetrotters are exposed to strange new pathogens that they take home to spread in crowded cities. "New viral diseases are on the rise as populations become more dense and mobile," said Arnaud Fontanet, head of epidemiology at France's Insitut Pasteur.

Add to this habitat loss from deforestation and climate change forcing pathogen-carrying animals closer to human settlements, and you have all the ingredients for brewing potent pandemics. "Outbreaks do seem to be getting more frequent," University of Nottingham molecular virology professor Jonathan Ball told AFP.

"Are we heading for the big one? It wouldn't be a huge surprise if there's another (major pandemic) waiting to happen. What that virus will be or when it will happen is tricky to judge. All we can do is monitor and be prepared."

Perhaps more than any other in recent history, the 2003 outbreak of SARS—a deadly new respiratory disease—raised the spectre of the kind of global devastation caused by the 1918-20 Spanish flu that wiped out 50-100 million people. SARS claimed 800 lives, mainly in Asia, but not before infecting people in nearly 40 countries within weeks and causing a panic that saw flights cancelled, schools closed and sales of surgical masks spike....

A box of surgical masks, shot by Tokumeigakarinoaoshima, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons 0.0 license

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