Ebola, SARS, MERS coronavirus, HIV… we had barely heard of these infections until relatively recently, yet the HIV pandemic alone has resulted in the death of about 39 million people worldwide over the last three decades or so. Globally, approximately 35.0 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2013.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa in March 2014 has been responsible for over 11,000 deaths and more than 27,000 cases. It rapidly became the deadliest occurrence of Ebola since the virus was discovered in 1976. In fact this epidemic has killed five times more people than all other known previous Ebola outbreaks combined.
The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2002/3 started in southern China and Hong Kong and spread to 37 countries. SARS caused over 8,000 cases, many of which were in healthcare workers. There were many reasons why this virus spread so far, so quickly. The story of the Chinese doctor who helped sick patients in Guangdong, and then travelled to Hong Kong for a wedding, and stayed in the metropole hotel and also the subsequent spread of the virus to Canada is well worth a read. Try looking on the Centre for Disease Control (CDC0 website here: http://www.cdc.gov/about/history/sars/feature.htm)
And MERS coronavirus (Middle east respiratory syndrome) is a newly discovered virus, which was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. It has spread to other countries and has also been found in camels. The ‘corona’ part means ‘crown’ and you can see the spikes around the virus in this electron microscope image, which make it look a bit like it has a crown: http://www.cdc.gov/features/novelcoronavirus/
In this exercise, you will discover
• What is an emerging infection?
• What exactly is an ‘outbreak’?
• Can we predict outbreaks, and if so what can we do to try and prevent future outbreaks of often fatal infections?