Be a Virus, See the World

  • Stephan Becker
Conference paper


As the recent SARS epidemic has shown, viruses are able to migrate with remarkably high speed, endangering countries around the globe within hours. Since viruses are obligate parasites, their migration speed is dependent on the mobility of the respective host. Several examples of pathogenic viruses with different patterns of migration will be discussed.

Lassa virus is endemic in West Africa and causes a highly pathogenic hemorrhagic fever among humans. Lassa virus is transmitted by urine and feces of rodents that are persistently infected. Lassa virus, dependent on its rodent host, seems not to spread significantly outside its endemic regions. The human infection rather represents a dead end for the virus.

West Nile virus entrered the American public awareness in 1999 with the first human cases in the United States appearing in New York City. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes that parasitize migrating birds, and also, e.g., crows. Transmitted to humans, West Niel virus can cause encephalitis that is especially dangerous for the elderly. West Nile virus spread remarkably fast over the North American continent. Nowadays, even several Canadian provinces are facing a severe problem with infected birds and human cases.

The SARS coronavirus caused not only epidemics with local transmissions in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Toronto, but was also spread to almost every country worldwide by infected patients. So far, this was the most impressive example for the speed a virus can achieve by the mobility of its host. The natural host of the SARS coronavirus is still unknown and, thus future outbreaks cannot be excluded.

The risk imposed by an emerging virus to the human population is a product of migration velocity, transmission route, and speed of detection. Most dangerous for the human population are highly pathogenic viruses that are transmitted from human to human via the air (SARS coronavirus). However, equally dangerous are viruses that are highly pathogenic, transmitted by blood to blood contact but have a long incubation period and, thus, detection and surveillance are complicated (human immunodeficiency virus).


West Nile Virus Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Yellow Fever Virus North American Continent Lassa Fever 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan Becker
    • 1
  1. 1.Philipps-University Marburg, Faculty of MedicineVirology InstituteMarburgGermany

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