Emerging RNA viruses

A persistent threat to global public health

The threat of virus epidemics continues to increase at an alarming rate. Across recent decades, a range of RNA virus pathogens has emerged from wildlife or re-emerged. Examples are the zoonotic coronaviruses causing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), the mosquito-borne chikungunya and Zika viruses, ebolavirus, newly evolving influenza viruses (avian and swine), and most recently, the SARS-coronavirus-2. The emergence of pathogens with pandemic potential remains a major global public health concern, impacting all regions worldwide. The threat is further augmented by the unpredictable evolution of these RNA viruses, which are masters at rapidly adapting to changing circumstances, for example when switching over to a new host species.

The general threat of infectious diseases is increasing due to societal, ecological and economic factors (urbanization, globalization, weather and climate change). Virus outbreaks affect personal and public health but also disrupt the economy and society by damaging businesses, causing job losses, and reducing the demand for goods and services. On a societal level, virus epidemics and pandemics can lead to increased fear and anxiety, as well as social unrest and disruption. Therefore, we must understand the risks posed by these viruses and take steps to be  and protect our health, economy and society from emerging viral threats.


Electron micrograph of MERS-coronavirus particles binding to a host cell.