Effective public health efforts require an accurate understanding of which virus species are capable of spreading between humans or may develop this ability in the future. Unfortunately, our ability to identify these viruses is limited by gaps in disease surveillance and an incomplete understanding of the process of viral adaptation. By fitting statistical models to data on the traits all 224 viruses known to infect humans, we developed a model that predicts the human transmission ability of zoonotic viruses with over 84% accuracy. This model identifies several specific viruses that may have an undocumented capacity for transmission between humans. Viral traits that predicted human transmissibility included infection of nonhuman primates, the absence of a lipid envelope, and detection in the human nervous system and respiratory tract. This predictive model can be used to prioritize viruses for future research and surveillance, and could inform an integrated early warning system for emerging infectious diseases.
Walker, J.W., B.A. Han, I.M. Ott & J.M Drake. 2018. Transmissibility of emerging viral zoonoses. PLoS ONE 13(11):e0206926 [online]