Seemingly every year, a new infectious disease emerges or remerges as a threat to global health. Several key factors play into the increasing threat of infectious diseases, including a more globally connected society, a changing climate, and urbanization. These factors and more allow viruses and bacteria to mutate and spread around the world.
While the medical community has many obstacles to face in combatting emerging infectious diseases, it also has many powerful tools at its disposal. The worldwide healthcare profession seeks to work together and develop new vaccines to keep these diseases at bay. Each doctor has a role to play in this global effort.
What are the Most Threatening Emerging Diseases?
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a disease may be considered emerging if:
- It was unknown prior to a recent outbreak
- The scientific community knew about the disease, but instances of it have increased rapidly in the previous 20 years
- Or the disease continues to be a threat and proves difficult to control
Diseases such as HIV, Lyme Disease, Zike, West Nile, Ebola, SARS, and Rift Valley Fever meet this definition. The World Health Organization (WHO) believes that the following diseases pose the biggest threats:
- CrimeanCongo haemorrhagic fever
- Filovirus diseases (i.e. EVD & Marburg)
- Highly pathogenic
- emerging Coronaviruses relevant to humans (MERS Co-V & SARS)
- Lassa Fever
- Rift Valley Fever
- The possibility of an as of yet unknown disease
Remerging diseases are those that would be under control but for human activity. For example, pertussis and measles become remerging threats in the face of the anti-vaccine movement.
Taking a Global Approach
Due to how common worldwide travel has become, emerging diseases are global threats. As such, any attempts to stop these diseases must come from the global healthcare community. Many members of the profession have recognized this since at least 1997, when eight industrialized countries met in Denver, Colorado to address the issue.
In 2019, some professionals proposed forming the Global Technical Council on Infectious Disease Threats. This proposed council would comprise of experts from around the world who would focus solely on emerging and remerging diseases.
Develop New Vaccines
Even in the best of circumstances, it can take years to develop a new vaccine. The medical community cannot stand by and wait for a disease to become a severe threat to start developing a vaccine. Instead, healthcare researchers have started working on immunizations now.
WHO reports that researchers are working on 240 potential vaccines for 25 of the most dangerous emerging diseases. The diseases with the most potential immunizations in progress include:
- Pneumococcal infections
Some researchers are also working on combining vaccines. This could save on costs and make it easier for more patients to get fully vaccinated. For example, the FDA approved the DTaP5-HB-IPV- Hib vaccine in 2018.
How Individual Doctors Can Help
Medical practitioners do not have to specialize in infectious diseases in order to make a difference in this area of medicine. Family doctors and other practitioners can take steps to stop the spread of emerging infectious diseases as well.
For example, doctors may consider offering telemedicine appointments to their patients with symptoms of infectious diseases. Letting contagious patients stay at home to get help can stop them from spreading the disease. Some other ways doctors can help include:
- Educate patients on the importance of vaccines.
- Insist that pediatric patients get vaccinated if able. This can help stop remerging diseases.
- Screen every patient to see if they have been exposed to infectious diseases.
- Follow all procedures for reporting infectious diseases.
- Educate patients on the difference between antibiotics and antivirals.
- Refuse to prescribe antibiotics for viral infections.
When all medical practitioners are well-educated on infectious diseases, the community can come together to combat emerging diseases.