Ebola outbreak is just the beginning of pattern of deadly diseases, science writer David Quammen warns

THE current Ebola outbreak is just the beginning of a pattern of deadly emerging diseases that will wreak havoc in coming years, a leading science writer has warned.

David Quammen has spent years researching emerging viruses officially known as zoonotic — they live in an animal host and occasionally jump to, or “spill over”, into human beings.

With the US in the grips of an Ebola panic after Texan nurse Nina Pham was diagnosed with the deadly virus, Quammen has issued an ominous warning: “This is not a one-time deal”.

The author, whose 2012 book on the subject Spillover won an award from the National Association of Science Writers, told mashable.com even if the current Ebola epidemic was brought under control, it’s “not going to be the end of the story”.

“That’s not going to be any final solution because next year, or the year after, there’ll be another viral outbreak that either turns into an epidemic or threatens to. So that’s the first thing, but of course nobody wants to hear that right now, because everyone is so concerned about and obsessed with Ebola — and I understand that, it’s a horrible situation.”

Worryingly, Quammen believes Ebola is not the virus that the world should be concerned about.

He believes the real threat is a new zoonotic virus that will come out of an animal host and will most likely be respiratory — passed on by a sneeze or cough.

“It will be probably a single-stranded RNA virus,” he said.

“And that means one of a certain limited number of families of viruses that, because they have their genomes on single stranded RNA, they have higher mutation rates, and therefore have higher rates of adaptation. Therefore, they have the potential to adapt better and quickly to human hosts and to transmission from one human host to another.”

He said only a small number of groups or families of viruses fit those characteristics — the families that encompass the SARS and MERS viruses.

Full article: Ebola outbreak is just the beginning of pattern of deadly diseases, science writer David Quammen warns (news.com.au)

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