SARS-CoV-2 is a prime example of the threat undetected viruses pose to global public health. SpillOver, a new web application developed by scientists at the University of California at Davis with input from experts worldwide, is assessing the risk of transmission of newly discovered viruses from wildlife to humans.
SpillOver is the first tool to assess wildlife viruses and their potential spread to humans. The open-source application evaluates diseases that can be transmitted naturally from animals to humans and their pandemic potential. It is useful for health experts and policymakers to prioritize them for further characterization, surveillance, and risk reduction interventions.
The tool is linked to a study published in the journal PNAS. The authors identified the most significant risk factors for the spread of the virus: its type, hosts, and environment. Scientists then assessed the risk associated with 887 wildlife viruses using data collected from various sources.
Topping the list of 12 known human pathogens confirms the usefulness of the assessment method. It is worth noting that SpillOver has rated several recently discovered coronaviruses as more dangerous in terms of a spread than those already known as zoonotic. This watchlist includes a new coronavirus, tentatively named PREDICT_CoV-35.
SARS CoV-2 is now ranked second out of 887 viruses analyzed – after the Lassa and Ebola viruses.
The authors note that this may seem counterintuitive given the current global scale of the pandemic. They explain that key information remains undisclosed about SARS CoV-2 and the risk of its spread, such as the number and range of its host species. As scientists learn more about this virus, it is possible that SARS CoV-2 will move to the top spot.
“SARS-CoV-2 is just one of many thousands of viruses in existence that can be transmitted from animals to humans,” concludes lead author Zoe Grange, who led the development of SpillOver.