Next global pandemic ‘most likely to be sparked by one illness’ say scientists

By Staff 6 Min Read

From flu to coronavirus to the ominously-named ‘Disease X’, epidemiologists around the world have ranked what they believe will be the most likely cause of the next global pandemic after Covid-19

Medical experts have revealed that the flu is the most likely cause of the next global pandemic, according to a new study.

The majority of infectious disease experts from around the world have ranked influenza as the top pathogen of concern in terms of its potential to spark a pandemic. Second on the list was an illness ominously dubbed ‘Disease X’, while others highlighted as potential causes included Coronavirus, Ebola, the original SARS virus from the early 2000s and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF).

The study, set to be formally presented at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases’ (ESCMID) Global Congress in Barcelona later this month, surveyed 187 global infectious disease experts from 57 different countries. Each expert was asked to rank various pathogens based on their perceived pandemic risk, including diseases featured in the World Health Organisation’s Research and Development Blueprint for Action to Prevent Epidemics.

The experts ranked the pathogens in order of their perceived risk and also suggested additional pathogens not listed to include in their maximum of 14. Their responses revealed that influenza viruses were the top concern, with more than half (57%) ranking it first and around a sixth (17%) ranking it second. Over a fifth (21%) of the experts ranked the as-yet-unknown Disease X as having the highest pandemic potential, with another 14% ranking it second.

Coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, came third with nearly one in ten (8%) ranking it first and 16% ranking it second, while the original SARS-CoV virus that circulated in 2002-03 was voted number one by two per cent of respondents and second by eight per cent. The CCHF and Ebola viruses were joint fifth, with 1.6% of experts voting them first. Nipah virus, henipavirus, and Rift Valley fever virus were among the pathogens ranked lowest in terms of their perceived pandemic potential.

Dr Jon Salmanton-Garcia, the lead author of the study from the University of Cologne in Germany, explained: “The study revealed that influenza, Disease X, SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and the Ebola virus are the most worrisome pathogens concerning their pandemic potential. These pathogens are characterised by their transmissibility through respiratory droplets and a history of previous epidemic or pandemic outbreaks.”

On influenza receiving the top ranking, Dr Salmanton-Garcia said the flu already causes ‘mini pandemics’ across the world each winter. “Each winter we have an influenza season,” he said. “Yet, every season the strains involved change, that is the reason why we can get influenza several times in life and vaccines change year to year.”

“In case a new strain becomes more virulent, this control could be lost.” However, Dr Salmanton-Garcia added that the world is now much more prepared for a global pandemic after Covid. In the Covid-19 pandemic, we have learned many things on how to approach a respiratory virus pandemic,” he continued. “This includes social distancing, hand cleaning, face masks, a renewed focus on vaccination, and trust in healthcare institutions. In parallel, institutions have also learnt a lot. Preparedness and surveillance are now, vitally, better-funded.” The study was published in the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease.

Share This Article
Leave a comment