NIAID scientists consider 200 years of infectious diseases

Unpredictable, ever-changing and with potentially far-reaching effects on the fates of nations, infectious diseases are compelling actors in the drama of human history, note scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. In an essay marking 200 years of publication of the New England Journal of Medicine, NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and coauthor David M. Morens, M.D., trace key advances in understanding and combatting infectious diseases and outline ways in which the contest between microbes and man might play out in decades to come.

The authors look back to the 1799 death, likely from bacterial epiglottitis, of President George Washington and note that "no one alive then could have imagined the astonishing breakthroughs that lay ahead." Among these was the idea that identifiable microbes lead to specific illnesses, an insight that opened the way to more accurate diagnoses, a host of and and a tool—vaccination—to prevent many infections altogether. Combined, these interventions have saved hundreds of millions of lives and lessened the burden of human suffering, the authors note.


Laudable successes—such as the elimination of smallpox—are, however, balanced against the inevitable emergence of newer pathogens, such as HIV, that can sweep the globe and devastate societies, observe the authors. This tug-of-war between constantly evolving microbes and the human ingenuity required to address newly emerging illnesses makes for the perpetual challenge of . Efforts to address this challenge, they write, "are driven by the necessity of expecting the unexpected and being prepared to respond when the unexpected occurs."

More information: AS Fauci and DM Morens. The perpetual challenge of infectious diseases. New England Journal of Medicine DOI:10.1056/NEJMra1108296 (2012).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dynasty: Influenza virus in 1918 and today

Jun 29, 2009

The influenza virus that wreaked worldwide havoc in 1918-1919 founded a viral dynasty that persists to this day, according to scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), ...

Scientists reactivate immune cells exhausted by chronic HIV

Jun 03, 2011

Scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, have demonstrated why certain immune cells chronically exposed to HIV shut down, and how they can ...

Key goals for building on 30 years of HIV/AIDS research

May 31, 2011

In the 30 years since the first reported cases of a mysterious illness now known as AIDS, researchers have made extraordinary advances in understanding, treating and preventing the disease. Now the challenge, according to ...

Recommended for you

US orders farms to report pig virus infections

15 hours ago

The U.S. government is starting a new program to help monitor and possibly control the spread of a virus that has killed millions of pigs since showing up in the country last year.

Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

16 hours ago

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

19 hours ago

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

New clues on tissue scarring in scleroderma

20 hours ago

A discovery by Northwestern Medicine scientists could lead to potential new treatments for breaking the cycle of tissue scarring in people with scleroderma.

User comments