Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Future Plagues
11 September 2014

Future Plagues

Since the hook-and-loop shape of the deadly Ebola virus – transmitted from bats to monkeys to people – was first seen under a microscope in 1976 (pictured infesting a monkey kidney cell), flu has killed nineteen million people, compared to less than two thousand Ebola deaths. Killing its hosts before it can spread far, Ebola is much easier to contain and harder to transmit than airborne flu because it passes in body fluids. But as ever-expanding human population centres encroach on ecosystems, epidemiologists fear new cross-species infections, or zoonosis. The bubonic plague, which killed one-third of Europe’s population in the fourteenth century, was brought by rodents via the Silk Road. While in 2002, the airborne SARS virus outbreak – traced to a civet cat on sale in the animal markets in Guangdong, China, from where it infected eight thousand humans worldwide and killed 774 – gave a foretaste of future pandemics helped by air-travel.

Written by Tristan Farrow

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