February 3, 2012
NIAID Scientists Consider 200 Years Of Infectious Diseases
Unpredictable, ever-changing and with potentially far-reaching effects on the fates of nations, infectious diseases are compelling actors in the drama of human history, note scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. In an essay marking 200 years of publication of the New England Journal of Medicine, NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., and coauthor David M. Morens, M.D., trace key advances in understanding and combatting infectious diseases and outline ways in which the contest between microbes and man might play out in decades to come.
The authors look back to the 1799 death, likely from bacterial epiglottitis, of President George Washington and note that "no one alive then could have imagined the astonishing breakthroughs that lay ahead." Among these was the idea that identifiable microbes lead to specific illnesses, an insight that opened the way to more accurate diagnoses, a host of antibacterial and antiviral drugs and a tool–vaccination–to prevent many infections altogether. Combined, these interventions have saved hundreds of millions of lives and lessened the burden of human suffering, the authors note.
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