Medical Definition of Emerging infectious disease

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/11/2018

Emerging infectious disease: An infectious disease that has newly appeared in a population or that has been known for some time but is rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range.

Examples of emerging infectious diseases include:

  • Ebola virus (first outbreaks in 1976 and the discovery of the virus in 1977),
  • HIV/AIDS (virus first isolated in 1983),
  • Hepatitis C (first identified in 1989, now known to be the most common cause of post-transfusion hepatitis worldwide),
  • Influenza A(H5N1) virus (well known pathogen in birds but first isolated from humans in 1997),
  • Legionella pneumophila (first outbreak in 1976 as Legionnaire disease and since associated with similar outbreaks linked to poorly maintained air conditioning systems),
  • Borrelia burgdorferi (first detected in 1982 and identified as the cause of Lyme disease).

Another example of an emerging infectious disease is the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which was first described in 1996. The agent is considered to be the same as that causing bovine spongiform encephalitis, a disease which emerged in the 1980s and affected thousands of cattle in the UK and Europe.


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Reviewed on 12/11/2018