Viral diseases constitute the largest credible present threat to the United States and to the world. During the history of life on earth, more species have been eliminated than survive to the present, and at least some of these are thought to have been destroyed by infectious agents.
The 1918 influenza epidemic is estimated to have killed over 20 million individuals world-wide, while HIV has killed to date an estimated 10 million to date, and will kill exponentially more, lacking an effective cure. Additional virus infections kill an estimated five million individuals per year. The entire world population is now almost as susceptible to smallpox (~30% mortality) as was the original native American population. Only recently has the extent of the continental die-off and its effects on native civilizations been fully realized.
Laboratory studies have now shown that mildly pathogenic animal viruses can be rendered lethal by the simple insertion of normal genes that adversely affect the immune system. Further, the total laboratory synthesis of poliovirus demonstrate that, with existing methods, any virus whose nucleic acid sequence is known can be made.
New and lethal viral diseases continue to emerge. Fortunately, public health measures, and the small scale of many naturally occurring outbreaks have managed to contain them. While wide spectrum antibiotics exist which will successfully treat almost any bacterial outbreak, there are not antiviral drugs analogous to antibacterial antibiotics.
Hence there is no effective countermeasure for a new pathogen that is widely and deliberately spread, or and has been weaponized. Only vaccines and virus-specific antibodies are effective.
Thus nature may provide new viruses that escape present measures, totally new viruses may be made inadvertently or thoughtlessly in the laboratory, that many laboratories around the world are dedicated to making novel lethal agents. No effective wide spectrum anti-virals exist, hence there is little to stockpile. It is evident that new approaches to the virus problem are required.