Agents of Emerging Infectious Diseases

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Dramatic improvements in the control of infectious diseases in developed countries owing to socioeconomic changes, vaccines, and antibiotics during the first seven decades of the 20th century led to the mistakened concept that infectious diseases would no longer be a concern. Since the declaration of victory in the war against infectious diseases in 1967, approximately 50 new disease agents have been identified. Nearly every type of etiologic agent and clinical manifestation have been involved including acute respiratory infections (e.g., H5N1 influenza A, SARS, hantaviral cardiopulmonary syndrome, and Legionnaires’ disease), central nervous system involvement (e.g., West Nile encephalitis, Nipah virus encephalitis, and prion diseases), enteric infections (e.g., Helicobacter pylori gastric and duodenal diseases, cryptosporidiosis, microsporidioses, and Shiga toxin diseases), systemic bacterial diseases (e.g., Lyme disease, six new rickettsioses, three new human ehrlichioses, bartonelloses, and staphylococcal and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome), viral hemorrhagic fevers (e.g., Marburg, Ebola, Lassa, Bolivian, Argentine, and Venezuelan hemorrhagic fevers), human retroviral infections (e.g., HIV1 and 2 and HTLV-I and II), new human herpesviruses (HHV6, HHV7, and HHV8), and the viral agents of hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. There are the reciprocal threats that a bioterror agent (e.g., smallpox virus) could cause a newly emerging infectious disease (EID) and that an agent of emerging infections (e.g., SARS-coronavirus or Rift Valley fever virus) could be disseminated by terrorists. Vaccines offer a critically important potential countermeasure against the effects of these and future EIDs. An aggressive approach to developing prototype vaccines against each new class of etiologic agent must be driven by public health initiatives because commercial interests will not undertake these projects. The microbe must be completely characterized biologically, molecularly, and genetically. An accurate animal model of the human infectious disease should be developed. The mechanisms of vaccine-induced protective immunity must be elucidated and the antigens that stimulate these mechanisms of protective immune memory identified. Preclinical testing of vaccine candidates should then be completed in the animal models. It would be most effective if subunit vaccine platforms were developed in which new antigen cassettes could be inserted and FDA approval obtained using one or more prototypes. Experience in manufacturing and a track record of effectiveness and safety for vaccines against numerous emerging infectious agents could be achieved for veterinary diseases caused by organisms that also cause emerging human infections (e.g., West Nile virus and ehrlichioses). In the United States, these approaches are driven currently by individual investigator initiative in pursuing the scientific questions through grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Progress occurs, but not at the desired level. An emerging infection with high transmissibility (e.g., Ro=10) and a case-fatality rate of 15% would cause global devastating effects at a level on the order of magnitude of a nuclear war. Our efforts to prepare for EIDs fall far short of nuclear attack preparedness during the Cold War.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationVaccines for Biodefense and Emerging and Neglected Diseases
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780123694089
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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