Thursday, 22 June 2017

Researchers identify mammals that are most likely to harbor viruses risky to humans

June 22, 2017 by Bob Yirka report

(—A team of researchers with the EcoHealth Alliance has narrowed down the list of animal species that may harbor viruses likely to jump to humans. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the group outlines the process they used to collect viral data on mammals around the globe, sorted them into groups and listed where they live. James Lloyd-Smith with the University of California offers a News & Views piece on the work done by the team in the same journal issue.

Scientists know that many of the viral threats we humans will face in the future are likely to come from viruses that already exist but reside in other species, particularly other mammals. The animal hosts have built up some degree of immunity to them, but we have not. Thus, if they jump to us, the result can be devastating. In this new effort, the researchers sought to catalogue all of the known viruses that infect mammals around the globe and identify which are most likely to jump to humans.

To create such a catalogue, the researchers created a database that held information on 754 mammal species, which represented 14 percent of all known mammals. They also added approximately 600 known viruses that infect mammals (of which a third were known to jump to humans) and which animals they infect. Next, they created mathematical models to use information in the database to provide useful information regarding the likelihood of a virus jumping to humans.

The researchers report that their models suggest that the likelihood of a virus jumping from a mammal species to humans depends heavily on species and geography. Bats were found to carry the largest number of viruses likely to jump to humans and the areas where it was most likely to occur were South and Central America. Primates posed the second largest risk factor, particularly in Central America, Africa and Southwest Asia. Rodents came in third with the risk most pronounced in North and South America and Central Africa.

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