NIAID scientists consider 200 years of infectious diseases

February 2, 2012

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."

Explore further: Scientists explore 1510 influenza pandemic and lessons learned

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

Related Stories

Scientists explore 1510 influenza pandemic and lessons learned

November 12, 2010

History's first recognized influenza pandemic originated in Asia and rapidly spread to other continents 500 years ago, in the summer of 1510. A new commentary by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious ...

NIH scientists outline steps toward Epstein-Barr virus vaccine

November 2, 2011

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects nine out of ten people worldwide at some point during their lifetimes. Infections in early childhood often cause no disease symptoms, but people infected during adolescence or young adulthood ...

Scientists reactivate immune cells exhausted by chronic HIV

June 3, 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

Re-emergence of syphilis traced to pandemic strain cluster

December 5, 2016

Over the last few decades, an age-old infectious disease has been re-emerging globally: syphilis. Using techniques to analyze low levels of DNA, an international research team headed by the University of Zurich has now shown ...

New mechanism to control human viral infections discovered

December 5, 2016

A team of researchers, co-led by a University of California, Riverside professor, has found a long-sought-after mechanism in human cells that creates immunity to influenza A virus, which causes annual seasonal epidemics and ...

Researcher making headway in fighting migraines

December 5, 2016

A study by a UT Dallas researcher has revealed new information about a potential chemical causing pain hypersensitivity in migraines, which is the third most common disease in the world.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.