As health officials worldwide fight to contain the coronavirus, a top-ranked U.S. health official says the public should expect more viral outbreaks like it in the coming years.
The coronavirus — which appears to have originated in the Eastern Chinese city of Wuhan — has infected more than 31,000 people and resulted in the deaths of over 600. The virus likely spread from horseshoe bats to other animals, which then may have been eaten at market, researchers found. However, the exact origin of the outbreak remains unknown.
In a newly released interview, taped on Tuesday, Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer asked Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, whether the public should expect additional viral outbreaks in the coming years. “I’m afraid we probably should,” Collins responded.
“There's a huge inventory of potential there that's lurking in bats and civets and other animals,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time until one of them jumps into us.”
“Everybody who looked at the history of SARS and MERS said we're probably not done with coronaviruses,” he says.
“We've just had the experience, again, with Ebola, another example where it's a virus that lives primarily in other species — probably bats — and finds its way into humans,” he adds.
Apple (AAPL) has closed all of its stores and offices in the country, and Hyundai (HYMTF) brought its factories in South Korea to a halt due to shortages of Chinese parts. Last month, China instituted the largest quarantine in human history, closing down 16 cities home to nearly 50 million people.
Collins made the comments during a conversation that aired in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
As director of the National Institutes of Health, Collins leads the largest funder of medical research in the world with a budget of $42 billion. His tenure has spanned 11 years and two presidents — Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Prior to his current post, Collins served as director of the National Center for Human Genome Research Institute, where his work helped map the human genome.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 12 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. — a small fraction of the tens of thousands of cases worldwide, which have resulted in over 600 deaths. On Thursday, reports emerged that Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who sounded the alarm about the mysterious new illness, had died from the coronavirus. And on Saturday, U.S. officials said that an American citizen had died from the virus in Wuhan, China.
Collins said the ongoing outbreak in China remains his primary source of worry, though the ultimate outcome for the U.S. is unknown.
“The concern, of course, is in China, where this is spreading very rapidly,” he says. “It is impossible to say, however, exactly what the next few weeks will hold for America.”
Max Zahn is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Find him on twitter @MaxZahn_.