NIH scientists reflect on gains in emerging infectious disease awareness, research and response

December 11, 2012

WHAT:

In a new essay, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and David Morens, M.D., reflect on what has been learned about emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) in the two decades since a major report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine rekindled interest in this important topic.

Heightened awareness of EIDs is itself a countermeasure against disease, note the authors. The emergence of new diseases can now be monitored in real time online through Internet resources such as ProMED. In 2012 alone, such resources kept the scientific community and the public informed about the emergence in the Middle East of a novel disease-causing coronavirus; occurrences of illness at Yosemite National Park caused by a hantavirus; and the emergence in U.S. farm communities of a variant influenza virus (H3N2v) that spread from swine to people. The authors point to advances that have improved the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of EIDs. Rapid sequencing of whole genomes, for example, allows for swift identification of new disease agents. The complex interactions between disease-causing microbes and human hosts are being revealed through approaches that describe entire biological systems holistically (systems biology). The data from such studies can be used to inform the development of drugs or vaccines. Recent appreciation of the sometimes beneficial role of communities of microorganisms dwelling in the gut, mouth, skin and other niches has reshaped the standard notion of infectious diseases as a simple contest between virulent invading pathogens and the human immune system.

The scientists emphasize the need for sustained commitment to developing countermeasures for specific diseases and to basic research that will lead to a greater understanding of infectious diseases and human susceptibility.

ARTICLE:

DM Morens and AS Fauci. Emerging infectious diseases in 2012: 20 years after the Institute of Medicine report. mBio DOI: 10.1128/mBio.00494-12 (2012) (http://mbio.asm.org/content/3/6/e00494-12).

WHO:

NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and David M. Morens, M.D., senior advisor to the NIAID Director are available to comment.

CONTACT:

To schedule interviews, please contact Anne A. Oplinger, (301) 402-1663, aoplinger@niaid.nih.gov.
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NIAID conducts and supports research--at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide--to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov/.

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