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Research Collaboration Announces New Tool To Calculate Zoonotic Disease Risk

NEW YORK – April 5, 2021 – SARS-CoV-2 is the most recent, but will not be the last zoonotic disease to cause major disruption, loss of life, and impact on global economies and daily life. As the ongoing pandemic has shown, major work is needed to bolster global resilience and prevention capacity against zoonotic disease. In that interest, scientists at EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit working at the intersection of animal, environmental, and human health on a global scale, alongside partners at the University of California, Davis and the global PREDICT Consortium, have developed a fully interactive tool that assigns a zoonotic risk score for wildlife-origin viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, Ebola, and endless other newly discovered viruses.

SpillOver is an open source platform that provides rapid information on the risk of wildlife-origin viruses to emerge and spread in the human population. The database contains information from hundreds of viruses, their animal reservoirs, and other environmental factors and ranks their relative risk of spillover based on 31 metrics.

"The goal of SpillOver is to help rapidly identify where need is greatest for increased surveillance and additional research," Dr. Kevin Olival, EcoHealth Alliance Vice President for Research and co-author on the study said. "Its potential applications are endless: governments can use its data to make scientifically sound policy decisions, scientists can use it to address critical research gaps and vaccine development, and communications professionals can use it to inform the public about risk."

EcoHealth Alliance research has shown there are as many as 1.67 million unknown viruses in the wild; around half of those likely have the potential to infect humans. This tool ranks 887 viruses using discovery data from more than half a million samples collected from nearly 80,000 animals and input from experts representing more than a dozen countries worldwide.

"The tool itself is user-friendly for policy makers and the public to use, but also adaptable and open-source so that scientists can input additional risk factors and new virus data as research and knowledge of infectious disease outbreaks changes," Dr. Olival said.

SpillOver’s "Risk Comparison" also tool allows users to compare and contrast viral threats based on certain indicators. Our vulnerability to a virus depends on a wide range of circumstances, both geographical and epidemiological, and all facets of the equation have been taken into account for the SpillOver database.

Viruses with the highest potential spillover risk are: Lassa virus, SARS-CoV-2, Ebola virus, Seoul virus, and Nipah virus. The full ranking can be found here. A paper detailing methods and potential applications was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Members of the PREDICT Consortium include the University of California, Davis; Columbia University; Metabiota, Inc.; the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; the Wildlife Conservation Society; and EcoHealth Alliance. Funding for this research was provided by USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project.

About EcoHealth Alliance:
Building on 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is the premier nonprofit organization committed to a One Health approach to track the migration of deadly viruses from animals into humans. EcoHealth Alliance research has led to major breakthroughs on the origins and spread of new and emerging diseases like Ebola, SARS, MERS, Nipah virus, and, now, SARS-CoV-2. EcoHealth Alliance works globally in hotspot regions where the threat of outbreaks is highest. Through innovations in research, training, capacity building, and policy initiatives, we develop tools and interventions to prevent pandemics and promote conservation.
Press contact: Robert Kessler, (212) 380-4469 or kessler@ecohealthalliance.org.

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