Understanding Emerging Infectious Diseases

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There are many common infectious diseases we know about already, such as those resulting from food poisoning or common flu or cold viruses. But some have appeared in the international news in recent years, and naturally, the symptoms are frightening to hear or think about, especially when these diseases are unknown to the Western hemisphere.

But knowledge is power. The more we know about how these diseases spread, the better off we are, especially as we humans seek to find cures, or at least powerful treatments, for these emerging infectious diseases.

Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever

Every now and then, this disease crops up, most commonly in West Africa. The reason why this disease is so virulent, taking people’s lives at a notorious mortality rate of 50-90%, are due to the following reasons:

  • The virus, or rather group of viruses known as Ebola (there are several), has the ability to evade much of the human immune response.
  • Level of care is also key. The people in West Africa don’t have access to proper care—such as getting adequate fluids and nutrition to help them combat the virus, to say nothing of true quarantine procedures to contain any outbreak. The US, on the other hand, had the ability to properly contain the virus.


SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was first brought to light in 2003, having  its start in Asia and spreading to other parts of the world via close contact. “Close contact” in this sense means touching the utensils or kissing and hugging someone with the disease. The basis of SARS is from a previously unknown variety of corona virus. Corona viruses are often responsible for mild to moderate respiratory illnesses in humans. In this instance, this new virus is called a SARS-related corona-virus, also known as “SARS-CoV.”

There weren’t many cases of the disease in the US, but if you are traveling to a country where there have been cases of SARS, it’s recommended that you follow the usual procedures for avoiding other similar viruses: washing your hands frequently and using antibacterial wipes or gels.

Avian Flu

This disease has hit the newspapers again recently, but thankfully, there is often very little danger to humans. The danger increases, however, when infected poultry has been handled. There are two varieties: HPAI (Highly Pathogenic Avian influenza) or H5N1 and LPAI (Low-pathogenic Avian Influenza) or H7N9. These are the types that have made the jump to infecting humans and causing varying levels of illness, from conjunctivitis only, to severe respiratory issues, including pneumonia.

Avian flu in humans has generally been treatable, using a variety of antiviral treatments.

Thanks to governmental groups like the CDC, emerging, or re-emerging diseases such as these are, for the most part, containable and treatable, even curable, depending on how much time and money are spent in responding to the diseases and finding cures or treatments.

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