Several new viral respiratory tract infectious diseases with epidemic potential that threaten global health security have emerged in the past 15 years. In 2003, WHO issued a worldwide alert for an unknown emerging illness, later named severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The disease caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV) rapidly spread worldwide, causing more than 8000 cases and 800 deaths in more than 30 countries with a substantial economic impact. Since then, we have witnessed the emergence of several other viral respiratory pathogens including influenza viruses (avian influenza H5N1, H7N9, and H10N8; variant influenza A H3N2 virus), human adenovirus-14, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). In response, various surveillance systems have been developed to monitor the emergence of respiratory-tract infections. These include systems based on identification of syndromes, web-based systems, systems that gather health data from health facilities (such as emergency departments and family doctors), and systems that rely on self-reporting by patients. More effective national, regional, and international surveillance systems are required to enable rapid identification of emerging respiratory epidemics, diseases with epidemic potential, their specific microbial cause, origin, mode of acquisition, and transmission dynamics.
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