Global health officials are scrambling to find out if a new virus that killed one patient in Saudi Arabia and left another hospitalized in the United Kingdom after being airlifted from Qatar could be another strain of SARS, the respiratory illness that swept through 37 countries in 2003.
Luckily, epidemiologists learned from the 2003 outbreak that affected almost 9000 people and left almost 1000 dead, allowing health officials to react quickly to this new SARS-like virus. But even though we’ve been able to adapt, it may be only a matter of time before a new and even more virulent pathogen emerges (cue thoughts of Hollywood blockbusters that dramatize the outbreak of a deadly global pandemic here.)
Dr. Shannon Bennett became interested in virology when she was infected with parasites as a volunteer in Liberia, and has since been on a quest to study how viruses and bacteria evolve and spread as a diseases. As the Associate Curator of Microbiology at the California Academy of Sciences, Bennett discussed how genetic tools may help save us from the next killer epidemic.