A new report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, which is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, establishes a framework for identifying naturally occurring microorganisms that pose a global catastrophic biological risk (GCBR) and makes broad recommendations for improving GCBR preparedness efforts.
The first and primary finding presented in the report, which is titled, “The Characteristics of Pandemic Pathogens,” outlines common characteristics of a potential GCBR-level pandemic pathogen. Its mode of transmission, the team concluded, will most likely be respiratory. It will be contagious during the incubation period, prior to symptom development, or when infected individuals show only mild symptoms. Finally, it will need specific host population factors (e.g., immunologically naïve persons) and additional intrinsic microbial pathogenicity characteristics (e.g., a low but significant case fatality rate) that together substantially increase disease spread and infection.
Infectious disease preparedness work focuses predominantly on an historical list of pathogens derived from biological warfare agents, political considerations, and recent outbreaks. That fails to account for the most serious agents not currently known or without historical precedent, the report notes.