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First estimate of total viruses in mammals
Date:9/2/2013

To address the challenges of describing and estimating virodiversity, a team of investigators from CII and EcoHealth Alliance began in jungles of Bangladesh -- home to the flying fox. These bats are the largest flying mammal with a wingspan of up to 6 feet; they are also the source of several outbreaks of Nipah virus. The team collected 1,897 biological samples from the animals, which were captured and released. Back in the lab, they used polymerase chain reaction to identify 55 viruses in nine viral families. Of these, only five were previously known, including two human bocaviruses, an avian adenovirus, a human/bovine betacoronavirus, and an avian gammacoronavirus. Another 50 were newly discovered, including 10 in the same family as Nipah. Next the researchers adapted a statistical technique from the field of ecology to estimate that there were another three rare viruses unaccounted for in the samples, upping the estimate of viruses in the flying fox to 58. Finally, this number was extrapolated to all 5,486 known mammals, yielding a total of at least 320,000 viruses.

A Relative Bargain

The researchers then repeated the exercise for cost, extrapolating from an estimated $1.2 million for surveillance, sampling, and discovery of all 58 flying fox viruses to come up with a total of $6.3 billion for all mammals. Given the disproportionate cost of discovering rare viruses, they showed that limiting discovery to 85% of estimated viral diversity would bring the cost down to $1.4 billion.

"By contrast, the economic impact of the SARS pandemic is calculated to be $16 billion," says Dr. Anthony. "We're not saying that this undertaking would prevent another outbreak like SARS. Nonetheless, what we learn from exploring global viral diversity could mitigate outbreaks by facilitating better surveillance and rapid diagnostic testing."

"If we know what's out there, we'll be a lot better prepared when a virus jumps over into a human pop
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Contact: Timothy S. Paul
tp2111@columbia.edu
212-305-2676
Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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