BRIEFER: Pathogen Early Warning – New Technologies and Approaches

By Bill Beaver, Sid Sharma M.D., Dr. Jacob Swett, Dr. Nikki Teran, Dr. Natasha Bajema, and Dr. Yong-Bee Lim

For the world to be ready for the next pathogen outbreak, it needs to bolster early warning via technologies like metagenomic sequencing, which represents one of the most important avenues for addressing future infectious disease outbreaks. 

In a new briefer from the Council on Strategic Risks, we describe a suite of technologies, such as metagenomic sequencing, and next steps government agencies can take to revolutionize U.S. pathogen early warning systems. 

We encourage the U.S. government to consider the activities described in the report as it plans investments of the proposed $30 billion to prevent future pandemics—and in future investments that should build on it.

With these investments and activities, the U.S. government and partners could enable a pathogen early warning system capable of rapidly detecting outbreaks of all known pathogens regardless of their characteristics, and also able to detect pathogens new to human understanding. Additionally, such a system should help estimate a pathogen’s likely deadliness and rate of transmission. 

Taken together, early detection of an outbreak and its rapid characterization—when case numbers are low and normally more manageable—can make measures to halt spread much more effective. The knowledge produced can also give public health authorities confidence to take stronger, more specific actions.

The benefits are clear of investment in pathogen early warning: If SARS-CoV-2 had been detected and contained before escaping its country of origin, approximately four million deaths and counting could have been averted, including a mounting toll of more than 600,000 Americans

Read the full briefer here.


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