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New tool better estimates pandemic threats
Date:3/5/2013

A simple new method better assesses the risks posed by emerging zoonotic viruses (those transmissible from animals to humans), according to a study published in PLOS Medicine this week. Dr. Simon Cauchemez and colleagues from Imperial College London in the UK and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US show that the new tool can produce transmissibility estimates for swine flu (the H3N2v-M virus), allowing researchers to better evaluate the possible pandemic threat posed by this virus. Until now, estimates of transmissibility were derived from detailed outbreak investigations, which are resource intensive and subject to selection bias. In this study, the authors develop a method to derive unbiased estimates of transmissibility with more limited data.

This study has important health policy implications because of the large numbers of people that could potentially be harmed by emerging viruses. Zoonotic viruses primarily cause occasional infections in human populations exposed to reservoir species (the animal species harboring the virus) because the pathogens are usually poorly adapted for sustained human-to-human transmission. However, zoonotic viruses are under strong selective pressure to acquire the ability for human-to-human transmission. Dr. Cauchemez and colleagues show that the novel approach described in this paper will be useful in assessing human-to-human transmissions during zoonotic outbreaks.

The researchers developed a mathematical model of disease transmission, which only requires data from routine surveillance and standard case investigations. They showed that the pandemic potential of a zoonotic virus could be estimated simply from the proportion of cases infected by the natural reservoir. The authors then applied their new approach to assess the human-to-human transmissibility of H1N1v, H1N2v and H3N2v viruses (in particular that of the H3N2v-M virus) from US surveillance data for the period Decembe
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Contact: Sumrina Yousufzai
syousufzai@plos.org
415-568-3164
Public Library of Science
Source:Eurekalert

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