The Atlantic

Is It Possible to Predict the Next Pandemic?

Large initiatives are underway to pinpoint the next big viral threats—but some virologists believe the task is too hard.
Source: Omar Sobhani / Reuters

It’s been two years since an epidemic of Zika began in Brazil, three since the largest Ebola outbreak in history erupted in West Africa, eight since a pandemic of H1N1 flu swept the world, and almost a hundred since a different H1N1 flu pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide. Those viruses were all known, but no one knew when or where they’d trigger epidemics. Other diseases, like SARS, MERS, and HIV, emerged out of the blue.

Sick of being perpetually caught off guard, some scientists want to fully catalogue all viral threats, and predict which are likely to cause tomorrow’s outbreaks. The PREDICT project has been doing that for 8 years; with $100 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, they’ve discovered nearly 1,000 new viruses. The is even more ambitious. Proposed in 2016,

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