New Infectious Diseases on the Rise

From SARS to MRSA to HIV, More Than 300 Infectious Diseases Discovered Since 1940

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 20, 2008 -- Infectious diseases have been discovered at a blistering pace in recent years, and global health experts worry that we're looking in the wrong places for them.

A new study shows that since 1940, scientists have identified 335 emerging infectious diseases in people.

Those diseases include severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Ebola, HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), West Nile virus, and methicillin-resistant staph (MRSA).

Many of the newfound diseases -- 71% -- started in wildlife and are becoming more common. Drug-resistant strains of infectious diseases are also on the rise, note the researchers, who included Kate Jones, PhD, of the Zoological Society of London.

Most of the infectious disease discoveries were made in Western countries, and those discoveries peaked in the 1980s. But Jones and colleagues are particularly concerned about the unknown infectious diseases that are still out there, especially in countries without the resources for finding them. 

The researchers recommend bolstering infectious disease surveillance in "hotspots" such as tropical Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

"The benefits would not just be felt locally: in an era of increasing globalization, emerging infectious diseases are everybody's problem," writes Professor Mark Woolhouse, PhD, of the Centre for Infectious Diseases at Scotland's University of Edinburgh, in an editorial published with the study in Nature.

SOURCES: Jones, K. Nature, Feb. 21, 2008; vol 451: pp 990-994. Woolhouse, M. Nature, Feb. 21, 2008; vol 451: pp 898-899. News release, University of Georgia.

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