Table: Viruses that Threaten to Spark Another Pandemic
Table: Viruses that Threaten to Spark Another Pandemic

Table: Viruses that Threaten to Spark Another Pandemic

A coronavirus has been commanding the headlines for months, but strains of influenza and paramyxovirus are extremely dangerous pathogens that could spark outbreaks.

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Anthony King

Anthony King is a freelance science journalist based in Dublin, Ireland, who contributes to The Scientist. He reports on a variety of topics in chemical and biological sciences, as...

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Aug 17, 2020


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues around the globe, The Scientist spoke to experts about what other viruses the world should be concerned about. Influenza and paramyxoviruses, in particular Nipah virus, topped the list, along with coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2.




Paramyxoviruses (henipaviruses)

Animal reservoirs

Huge diversity in insectivorous bats and fruit-eating bats. Horseshoe bats (genus Rhinolophus) in Southeast Asia harbor SARS-like coronaviruses.

Water birds, poultry, and domestic pigs. Some outbreaks in dogs and horses.

Some family members abundant in fruit bats.

Spillover history

Four “common cold” coronaviruses may have origins in bats, possibly in last few centuries. SARS caused an outbreak during 2003–04. MERS continues to infect people, presumably jumping from camels. 

Numerous pandemics throughout human history were likely due to flu. Confirmed flu pandemics include the devastating 1918 pandemic, as well as pandemics in 1957–58, 1969, and 2009.  

Hendra virus infected horses and people first in 1994. Nipah virus first recorded in pigs and humans in 1998.  

Case fatality rate

Varies hugely. COVID-19 possibly around 1 percent. SARS is thought to be closer to 15 percent. MERS has proved fatal in about 35 percent of patients.

In the case of the 1918 pandemic, the case fatality rate was around 2.5 percent globally. 

Some of the deadliest known pathogens. Hendra virus rarely infects humans, but when it does, the fatality rate is around 50 percent. The case fatality rate for Nipah is even higher, ranging from 50 percent to 100 percent in some outbreaks.


Contact and airborne (droplets and aerosols)

Contact and airborne (droplets and aerosols)

Mostly urine and saliva from bats contaminating food of domestic animals and humans. Close contact between people for Nipah

Animals affected

Dogs, pigs, cats, cattle, camels, and others

Pigs, horses, ferrets, dogs, and poultry 

Hendra virus infects horses and dogs. Nipah virus infects pigs (and lab animals such as hamsters and ferrets)

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