This question that is often highlighted in disaster films was asked by a curious student specialising in virology, which is the study of viruses and associated infectious agents.
In collaboration with TéléNantes, the Université de Nantes produces a program called Une question, un chercheur (One question and one researcher). While on this program a student asked Berthe-Marie Imbert-Marcille, a virology professor, the following question: “Could one virus wipe out all humanity? “
According to the specialist, this question is very topical, as it relates to our greatest fears, particularly with regard to pandemics and other epidemics. We can all think back to the most recent outbreak Ebola which has was the deadliest outbreak since the virus was identified in 1976. The virus struck West Africa for two years, between 2013 and 2015, with a record of 11, 315 deaths. The total number of cases around the world was 28, 637 across ten countries. Our helplessness during this humanitarian disaster was striking.
Berthe-Marie Imbert-Marcille reviewed the ideal conditions for a possible virus capable of ravaging the whole of humanity. According to the expert, such a virus could only come from the animal world. However the adaptability of such a virus in humans is far from obvious. As the researcher explained viruses are “pathogens that are extremely specific to a given species“, so there are very few viruses from the animal world capable of directly infecting humans. For this to happen, the virus has to “evolve at the genetic level”, however this is very unlikely.
The way in which such a virus could be transmitted is also significant. The virus would have to be easily transmitted if it was to infect the billions of human beings. The specialist again mentioned the Ebola virus. She explained that without direct contact between humans it was impossible for the virus to be transmitted. Therefore if a virus its transmitted to all of humanity it would have to pass through our airways for there to be mass dissemination.
Berthe-Marie Imbert-Marcille believes there is a very limited probability that a virus could evolve so that it is adapted to humans while also being transmitted by the respiratory route. She stated that it is “extremely unlikely“. Moreover, the human race has great diversity. This would make it even more difficult for a single virus to wipe out the whole of humanity. However as the virology expert pointed out, these claims are as a result of our “current knowledge” of viruses.
Sources : Université de Nantes YouTube Channel