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 ...

NIH study describes fast, sensitive blood test for human prion disease

May 9, 2011
Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), report that they have developed a method—10,000 times more sensitive than other methods—to ...

Recommended for you

A large-scale 'germ trap' solution for hospitals

July 26, 2017
When an infectious airborne illness strikes, some hospitals use negative pressure rooms to isolate and treat patients. These rooms use ventilation controls to keep germ-filled air contained rather than letting it circulate ...

Male hepatitis B patients suffer worse liver ailments, regardless of lifestyle

July 25, 2017
Why men with hepatitis B remain more than twice as likely to develop severe liver disease than women remains a mystery, even after a study led by a recent Drexel University graduate took lifestyle choices and environments ...

Mind-body therapies immediately reduce unmanageable pain in hospital patients

July 25, 2017
Mindfulness training and hypnotic suggestion significantly reduced acute pain experienced by hospital patients, according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Researchers report new system to study chronic hepatitis B

July 25, 2017
Scientists from Princeton University's Department of Molecular Biology have successfully tested a cell-culture system that will allow researchers to perform laboratory-based studies of long-term hepatitis B virus (HBV) infections. ...

Research examines lung cell turnover as risk factor and target for treatment of influenza pneumonia

July 24, 2017
Influenza is a recurring global health threat that, according to the World Health Organization, is responsible for as many as 500,000 deaths every year, most due to influenza pneumonia, or viral pneumonia. Infection with ...

Scientists propose novel therapy to lessen risk of obesity-linked disease

July 24, 2017
With obesity related illnesses a global pandemic, researchers propose in the Journal of Clinical Investigation using a blood thinner to target molecular drivers of chronic metabolic inflammation in people eating high-fat ...

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.