If anyone mentioned the word ‘pandemic’ five years ago, very few people would have known what you were talking about. Now, it’s all too familiar.
But since SARS-CoV-2 made its dramatic entrance at the end of 2019, it feels like there have been lots of new and even more unpleasant viruses with pandemic potential popping up in various parts of the world.
There’s been monkeypox (now called Mpox), killer strains of influenza in birds (that have jumped to humans) and an outbreak of Marburg virus (a close relative of Ebola) in Equatorial Guinea.
It all feels like we are about to be overtaken by new diseases, but it’s worthwhile to try and find some perspective.
What’s going on?
Part of the reason we know about these viruses is because our ability to detect them has improved. Influenza in particular has always had pandemic potential (think 1918) so surveillance is stronger to try and get ahead of any variants that could cause such issues.
Another issue is that humans are coming into contact with new viruses more frequently due to land clearing.
Finally, climate change is helping viruses spread into new environments. Mosquitoes are migrating into new areas and taking their resident viruses (such as Dengue and malaria) with them.
The lovely image attached to this post is courtesy of the CDC: A 3D computer-generated rendering of a whole influenza (flu) virus with a light grey surface membrane set against a black background. The virus’ surface proteins – hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA) – are depicted in light and dark blue, respectively. HA is a trimer (which is comprised of three subunits), while NA is a tetramer (which is comprised of four subunits and its head region resembles a 4-leaf clover).