Emerging Infectious Disease

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an Emerging Infectious Disease is a disease "whose incidence in humans has increased in the past 2 decades or threatens to increase in the near future have been defined as 'emerging'. These diseases, which respect no national boundaries, include:

  • "New infections resulting from changes or evolution of existing organisms
  • "Known infections spreading to new geographic areas or populations
  • "Previously unrecognized infections appearing in areas undergoing ecologic transformation
  • "Old infections reemerging as a result of antimicrobial resistance in known agents or breakdowns in public health measures."[1]

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explains: "Many infectious diseases can be expected to increase in incidence or change in distribution under conditions in which currently available control measures prove insufficient; the periodic epidemics of influenza or cholera experienced in the last century provide familiar examples. ... The emergence of new or altered pathogens will be unpredictable, however--occurring as a result of microbial evolution, changes in host-pathogen interaction, and a myriad of other factors."[2]

In June 2004, diseases widely considered to fall into this category included: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Ebola virus, Malaria, Cryptosporidiosis, Influenza A virus, Human Immodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS), West Nile Virus, Lyme Disease, Hepatitis C, Tuberculosis, Legionnaire disease, E. coli O157:H7, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).[3] Bioterrorism is also often included under the "emerging infectious disease" heading.


Background from the Fact Sheet Addressing the Threat of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the U.S. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, June 12, 1996:

Emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS present one of the most significant health and security challenges facing the global community. Deaths from infectious disease have risen sharply over the past decade in the United States and globally. In the United States alone, the death rate from infectious diseases, excluding HIV/AIDS, rose by 22 percent between 1980 and 1992. Contributing factors, such as climate change, ecosystem disturbance, increased movement of people and goods, and the deterioration of public health infrastructures, show no sign of abatement. Addressing this challenge requires a global strategy as most cities in the United States are within a 36 hour commercial flight of any area of the world -- less time than the incubation period of many infectious diseases. Furthermore, the United States is vulnerable to a release of biological agents by rogue nations or terrorists, which could result in the spread of infectious diseases.
The National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) has determined that the national and International system of infectious disease surveillance, prevention, and response is inadequate to protect the health of U.S. citizens. The NSTC reports, Infectious Disease -- A Global Health Threat (September 1995), Meeting the Challenge -- A Research Agenda for Health, Safety, and Food (February 1996), and Proceedings of the Conference on Human Health and Global Climate Change (May 1996), make a number of recommendations to improve our surveillance, prevention, and response capabilities which are reflected in this policy.

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