Emerging & Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases
Can the battle be won?
3 min read
At the dawn of the 20th century everything looked bright and up. Vaccines had conquered many of the dreaded plagues, at least in the developed world. We have eliminated smallpox, mumps, measles, rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria and polio. Things were good but our focus started to slip. Funding of government labs dried up, hospitals were optimized for maximum financial efficiency, and emergency preparedness plans had become moldy and outdated. Science could conquer anything anyway. The battle between human and infectious disease was over. Or at least we thought -from the safety of our bubble, but then came COVID-19.
Infectious diseases do not care about borders, nor how wealthy you are. Countries with weaker healthcare systems would be unable to contain viruses and other pathogens. Even countries with state-of-the-art healthcare are unable to keep diseases from traveling outside of their borders. Cheap air travel has made us increasingly mobile. Someone would always slip through the maze, unnoticed.
Globally, infectious diseases remain the leading cause of death, and they are the third or fourth leading cause of death in developed countries. Re-emerging diseases are diseases that were historically on a decline. Old pathogens such as tuberculosis, cholera, plague, dengue hemorrhagic fever and yellow fever have resurfaced and are having a considerable impact, even in developed countries. Emerging diseases are those whose incidence in humans has increased in the past two decades. The magnitude of the problem is illustrated by the appearance of several new pathogens causing disease of marked severity, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and other retroviruses, arenaviruses such as Lassa fever, arboviruses like Zika , Hantaviruses, the Ebola virus and coronaviruses.
Keeping a close watch
The ability to spot new disease outbreaks, gauge them properly and get the word out is central to managing crises. Surveillance is an ongoing systematic process of collecting, analyzing and interpreting health data, including information on clinical diagnoses, laboratory-based diagnoses, and specific syndromes. The most important step toward improvement is changing the way we manage and interpret this data. If anything, COVID-19 has shown us that the current way falls short in several areas. Collecting health related data is currently done on a patchwork of systems. The data is there, but needs to be grabbed, centralized, and processed into a manageable form. Gauging severity and threat is a delicate business. Government interference or even group biases distort the picture. We should strive to enable independent review of this data and disconnect it from these influences. Our plan is to drive this process and to put it into action today, so that we are prepared for the future.
Be the best at testing
Our tests aren’t good enough to diagnose the things we know, so what about things we don’t know? We need to devote resources to improve the diagnostic methods for infectious diseases. This means rapid development of reliable tests for new, previously unknown, diseases but the tests need to serve a purpose. What good is a test that takes three or more days to get results. During those early days of onset or acute infection, people are most likely to spread the disease. In remote area’s or low-resource countries, tests would not even be available. The technologies to change the way we test are there, we just need to implement them. Our scientists have started working on solutions to overcome these problems, so that we can do better.
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World Infectious Disease Monitoring Foundation
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