Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 15 secondsAir is one of the most efficient routes of transmission for different infectious agents. A large number of human respiratory diseases have their origin in animal viruses. As examples, we may include some of the human respiratory diseases that have generated more social and health alarms in recent years. One of them, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), emerged in 2002 in China, without any apparent relationship with any other human or animal coronavirus characterized so far. It was considered as the first pandemic of the 21st century, and it affected more than 33 countries on 5 continents. It produced more than 8000 cases of infection and over 700 deaths in the human population.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 secondsSubsequently, its origin was related to the circulation of the virus in different animal species which would have acted as reservoirs (such as bats), while civets would have served as the main intermediary host. Contact with live animals in markets, fairs, transportation, close-by restaurants, etc., would have served as an origin and spread the infection amongst the human population. The second example, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) also caused by a coronavirus, appeared in 2012. To date, 1791 human cases have been confirmed and 640 deaths in 27 countries have been reported. Bats may act as reservoirs of the coronavirus and camelids as intermediate hosts.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 secondsBut of all respiratory viral diseases, the more representative is influenza, a very old disease already described by Hippocrates around the year 400 BC. Human populations all over the world have historically suffered pandemics of this disease. In the last century, just three of them alone, the "Spanish flu" (between 1918 and the year 1919), the "Asian flu" (in 1957) and the "Hong Kong flu" (1968), produced millions of human deaths on different continents. Flu is considered a non-eradicable disease. It is highly contagious and has demonstrated the ability to “jump the interspecies barriers”. This means that influenza viruses are able to multiply and be efficiently transmitted between different animal species.

Skip to 2 minutes and 50 secondsTo understand how this disease behaves, it is necessary to consider flu as a “combination of viruses”. Influenza viruses circulate in nature and have been isolated from very different animal species, such as ducks, hens, whales, horses, seals, etc. and of course, from humans. Amongst the domestic species of interest, there are avian viruses, swine viruses, and equine viruses that maintain their own cycle of natural and temporary transmission. In certain circumstances, a genetic exchange between different viruses from various animal species may take place. This could lead to the emergence of new variants that would potentially cause an epidemic or a pandemic.

Skip to 3 minutes and 38 secondsThus, during an epidemic, and due to the emergence of these new viruses or new variants, we may observe the disease simultaneously in the human population and/or in different animal populations, such as swine, poultry, etc. As veterinarians, we deal with the animal influenzas, their prevention and control. They are a major problem for animal health and production, and also from the point of view of public health, since they are zoonoses. This week we will address different aspects of the disease, starting with the study of orthomixovirus, their causal agents.

Airborne viruses: easily transmitted and spread

Why are airborne viruses so important?

Many of the airborne viruses produce very severe diseases, associated with high mortality, which may be spread along long distances and cause outbreaks of the disease in different locations. In addition, many of them are zoonoses.

Have your say

Have you been to China during the SARS outbreak or to the Middle East recently? Have you noticed information about prevention measures? Your fellow learners will be very interested in your experience.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Animal Viruses: Their Transmission and the Diseases They Produce

Complutense University of Madrid

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join: