The sobering truth of the COVID-19 pandemic is that we live in a world where a lethal virus can emerge and spread like wildfire to every community without regard to borders or social and economic status. While researchers continue to battle this disease, efforts are underway to head off the next one.
A team at the University of California, Davis has created an interactive web tool called SpillOver to identify and rank viruses based on their risk of jumping from animals to humans and causing disease in people. These are known as zoonotic viruses, and so far, the database contains a startling 887 of them.
Using data from more than 500,000 samples taken from over 74,000 animals around the world, SpillOver compares the characteristics of known zoonotic viruses with the features of those that have the potential to make the jump. It looks at factors such as the host of the virus, the environment and human behavior that could influence whether the virus could spread within human populations.
Many of the top viruses on the list are already familiar, including SARS-CoV-2, Ebola and Zika. Disturbingly, several newly detected wildlife viruses rank higher in risk than known zoonotic viruses.
The researchers point out that having this vital information is not enough — there needs to be a strategy of what to do with it. SpillOver aims to identify viruses that should be prioritized for surveillance and study.
To help spur such research, SpillOver is an open source and adaptable tool. As new evidence of viruses and risk factors emerges, it can be incorporated and updated.
Scientists have led the way out of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they already are hard at work trying to protect us from the next one.