Magazine article The Futurist

Germs on the March

Magazine article The Futurist

Germs on the March

Article excerpt

Populations are threatened by both new and old diseases

New, emerging illnesses such as the AIDS/HIV retrovirus, as well as old ones like malaria and tuberculosis, pose major health threats to the public and new challenges to medical science, according to a recent report by the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

Virtually no place on the globe has escaped the AIDS epidemic, the Institute notes, and some older diseases have been making a comeback. Strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis have been documented in several U.S. cities; a cholera epidemic recently hit Peru and is thought to be spreading northward; and cases of malaria, also proving to be drug-resistant, have been reported throughout Africa, Asia, and South America.

The report, Emerging Infections: Microbial Threats to Health in the United States, warns that more comprehensive and systematic efforts are needed to combat such diseases. According to Robert Shope of Yale University, one of the authors of the report, unless steps are taken, "We're vulnerable to something along the lines of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic that killed 20 million people worldwide." Similar epidemics as recently as 1957 and 1968 killed at least 90,000 people in the United States and racked up medical-care costs of almost $3.4 billion.

A number of factors are to blame for disease emergence, the report notes. Goods shipped from one place to another can have a disease carrier along for the ride; land development can put people in closer proximity with animals like deer, bearing Lyme-disease-carrying ticks; and global warming could expand wetland areas, resulting in a larger breeding ground for disease carriers such as mosquitoes. …

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