Introducing Infectious Diseases

Education Development Center, Inc.

Jackie Miller, Ph.D.

Every 12 to 18 months somewhere in the world a pathogenic agent enters the human population and sickens significant numbers of people. These diseases may be ones that occur time and time again in a population (reemerging diseases) or ones a population has never seen before (emerging diseases).

These diseases may occur as outbreaks (numbers of infected individuals are greater than expected), epidemics (numbers of infected individuals are in far greater excess than expected) or pandemics (worldwide epidemics). A pandemic can begin as an outbreak that escalates to an epidemic that eventually sickens populations in countries around the world. Whether an outbreak spreads globally depends on the nature of the pathogen, environmental factors and human behavior.

In a 2015 Ted talk Bill Gates stated “We can’t predict when, but given the continual emergence of new pathogens, the increasing risk of a bioterror attack, and the ever-increasing connectedness of our world, there is a significant probability that a large and lethal modern-day pandemic will occur in our lifetime”. Five years later his prediction came true in the 2020 COVID pandemic. It started as an outbreak in Wuhan, China and became a pandemic in an astonishingly short amount of time. Could anything have been done to contain the outbreak and prevent the ongoing pandemic? Gates and others believe that governments around the world should be in a state of preparedness for the inevitable pandemics. World leaders need to invest in developing antiviral drugs and other therapies that can be stockpiled or rapidly manufactured. Plans for testing, quarantine, and isolation should be in place for rapid activation. Countries plan for military warfare but lack a sense of urgency for fighting the smallest and perhaps most deadly of enemies, the pathogens. Will that change after this pandemic or will the world continue to be reactive rather than proactive?