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July 7, 1989

Scientists Ponder When, Why of Emerging Viruses

JAMA. 1989;262(1):16. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03430010018008

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WHILE SCIENTIFIC TOOLS are available to identify newly emerging or reemerging pathogens, better systems are needed to track them, say scientists who are concerned about the present inability to pinpoint when and where disease outbreaks may occur and how severe they may be.

Meeting in Washington, DC, under sponsorship of the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, Md) and Rockefeller University (New York City), they discussed bacteria and fungi, but concentrated primarily on viruses and the viral capacity to mutate. Even if the mutations do not always result in a new disease, they note, that potential is always present.

Small World  Furthermore, these scientists say, with modern air travel, unusual diseases can spread from one corner of the earth to another in a few hours, before physicians are aware of what is happening. Also affecting the likelihood of epidemics of new viruses, or the appearance of old viruses in new settings,