Fatal Infections Ravage Aging U.S. Population: Global Onslaught of Disease Feared
Price, Joyce, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Deaths from infectious disease have climbed rapidly since 1980 to become the third-leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer, a new report says.
The report, in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, indicates the limitations of antibiotics and new global vulnerability to infectious disease.
"We have created the perfect world for the bugs to take over," Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, an expert in infectious diseases, told United Press International.
In an editorial, Dr. Margaret A. Winkler, senior JAMA editor, and Associate Editor Annette Flanagin noted that a little more than a decade ago "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine" proclaimed that "infectious diseases are more easily prevented and more easily cured than any other major group of disorders."
They said this complacency caused the medical community to focus more on heart disease and cancer. "In 1996, we view infectious diseases with a humbler eye," they wrote.
"The victories of a quarter-century ago ring hollow as AIDS ravages, enterococci [a bacterial strain] become resistant to all standard treatments, and the once easily treated pneumococcus gains a plethora of antimicrobial drug resistance."
They added that the war against infectious diseases requires a global approach.
Based on a review of death certificates, the report found that deaths from infectious diseases in the United States rose 58 percent, from 41 to 65 deaths per 100,000 population, between 1980 and 1992.
AIDS cases, unknown in 1980, accounted for the largest share of the increase. Even without AIDS, the "death rate due to infectious diseases . . . increased by 22 percent," wrote Dr. Robert W. Pinner, an epidemiologist for the National Center for Infectious Diseases at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the primary author of the report.
Dr. Leon Smith, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, predicts infectious diseases will be the No. 2 killer, after cancer, in another five to 10 years. "Heart disease is really under control," he said in an interview.
Infectious-disease deaths will continue to rise, he said, because of the aging population, increasingly resistant microbes, inadequate levels of immunization, greater numbers of people with suppressed immune systems as a result of organ transplants and chemotherapy, and a "drought of new antibiotics. …