With all this talk about Ebola for the last few months, and conceivably the next 6 months at least, I wanted to touch on other scary emerging viruses and why this Ebola epidemic is potentially the start of a new age of emerging infectious disease outbreaks.
The authors of a recent Science Translational Medicine article state that expansion by humans into previously uninhabited areas of the world combined with increased globalization means the world is ripe for the global spread of novel and reemerging infectious diseases. Our vulnerability to emerging and reemerging infectious diseases is evident by the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Chikunguya and Dengue mosquito-borne viruses making their way into the Americas, MERS and SARS respiratory illnesses expanding beyond the Middle East and Asia, and the various influenza strains that are starting to emerge as potential pandemics each year, among other examples.
As you can see from the above graphic, the yellow dots represent newly emerging viruses while the orange dots represent reemerging viruses. You can also see that those of us in the US are not immune to these pathogens such as Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, Human monkeypox and West Nile Virus.
While humans are at a constant fight against infectious diseases with few total victories (such as smallpox eradication), technology is allowing us to faster and more easily identify and diagnose these infectious diseases. Technology is also allowing us to diversify our current vaccine creation techniques to create more effective and stable vaccines for infectious diseases.
Humans will continue to battle the emerging and reemerging infectious diseases that are evolving as we evolve. Continued funding to support research into technological advances is perhaps our best bet for humans to continue to co-exist with infectious diseases, because they aren’t going anywhere soon and neither are we.