A new online tool classifies several hundred known viruses according to their potential for transmission to humans, but also to their dangerousness. Among them may be hiding a pathogen that could cause the next pandemic.
SARS-CoV-2 is the last known virus to “spread” from animals to humans, but it is not the first nor the last. Hundreds of thousands of other agents could indeed pose at least a similar threat. A new tool, called SpillOver, lists the microorganisms most likely to pose a threat to human health. Available in open access, it can be used by other scientists and decision-makers to undertake more in-depth studies. In this way, we could thus prevent future risks.
“SARS-CoV-2 is just one example of the thousands of viruses that have the potential to spread from animals to humans”, confirms Zoë Grange of the University of California, who led the development of SpillOver. “We must not only identify, but also prioritize the viral threats with the greatest risk of contagion before another devastating pandemic occurs”.
Risk of overflow
While there are currently around 250 “zoonotic” viruses (already passed from animals to humans), around 500,000 other pathogens also have the potential to overflow, the researchers explain in their report. study. Some, on the other hand, are more likely to overflow than others.
Also, the researchers tried to compare these risks by taking into account around thirty factors, such as the number of animal species infected or the frequency with which humans interact with these hosts. This list was eventually reduced to 887 viruses. In this sample, most were discovered recently, but some are already known.
The top twelve viruses on this list are known zoonotic pathogens. Lassa virus ranks first, followed by SARS-CoV-2 and Ebola virus.
Why is SARS-CoV-2 not ranked first? According to the researchers, some important information about him remains unknown. The virus could, however, take the top spot as researchers learn more about it.
Several agents to watch
Among the viruses that are not yet zoonotic, the most dangerous is the 229E coronavirus. Known to infect bats in Africa, it belongs to the same viral family as SARS-CoV-2. Another virus to watch closely is the PREDICT CoV-35 coronavirus. This also belongs to the coronavirus family. It infects bats in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Note that the SpillOver tool is a crowdsourcing platform. In other words, other researchers can at any time provide more data on viruses already integrated, or even add new viruses. Thus, this classification is likely to change over time depending on this new information.