The Global Threat of New and Reemerging Infectious Diseases: Reconciling U.S. National Security and Public Health Policy

By Jennifer Brower; Peter Chalk | Go to book overview

Chapter Two
FACTORS ASSOCIATED WITH THE INCREASED
INCIDENCE AND SPREAD OF
INFECTIOUS DISEASES

The bubonic plague that swept across Europe during the Middle Ages, the smallpox that was carried to the Americas by the Spanish, and the influenza outbreak of 1918 all bear testimony to the historic relevance of infectious pathogens and their ability to cause widespread death and suffering. In many ways, however, the nature and magnitude of the threat posed by infectious pathogens are greater today than they have ever been in the past, developments in modern science notwithstanding. Emerging and reemerging infections present daily challenges to existing medical capabilities. Not only have deadly and previously unimagined illnesses, such as AIDS, Ebola, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Legionnaires' disease, emerged in recent years, but established diseases that just a few decades ago were thought to have been tamed are also returning, many in virulent, drug-resistant varieties.1 Modern manifestations of TB, for instance, bear little resemblance to the 19th-century strains that haunted Europe. TB treatment now requires a daily drug regimen that often requires health workers to personally monitor patients to ensure that they are complying with necessary procedures.2

In many ways, this situation is a result of the natural balance of forces between people and infectious organisms. By one estimate, there are at least 5,000 kinds of viruses and more than 300,000 species of bacteria that challenge human beings, many of which are

____________________
1
George Armelagos, “The Viral Superhighway,” p. 24.
2
See, for instance, Mark Earnest and John Sbarbaro, “A Plague Returns,”The Sciences, Vol. 33, No. 5, September/October 1993, pp. 17–18.

-13-

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