The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

The National Academies

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

Crowded housing with poor sanitation may enable the rapid spread of disease within a community.

Credit: iStockphoto

Poverty, Migration & War

 
Throughout history, poverty and infectious disease have been intimately connected. In makeshift and overcrowded shantytowns and slum neighborhoods located on the outskirts of major cities in the developing world, lack of access to clean water and improper sanitation services spread diarrheal diseases. Worldwide, 884 million people do not have access to an adequate water supply, and about three times that number lack basic sanitation services. An estimated 2 million deaths a year can be attributed to unsafe water supplies; about 90 percent of those who die from diarrheal diseases are children in developing nations.
Growing numbers of people are moving within and across national borders after being forced from their homes by war, poverty, or famine.
People in poor nations often suffer from more than one infection because poverty breeds many diseases at once, including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, respiratory and intestinal infections, and neglected diseases of poverty such as intestinal worms, Chagas disease, and dengue fever. Pneumonia, diarrhea, and malaria are among the leading causes of death in the developing world in children under the age of five. When there is a lapse in political will to support disease prevention efforts, such as childhood vaccinations, disease can emerge rapidly, as seen in the spread of polio from northern Nigeria to more than 20 other countries.
 
In addition, developing nations face public health hurdles such as weak health care systems and long distances to health care facilities. Limited availability of drugs, or widespread use of poor-quality or counterfeit medications, has led to drug resistance in the poverty-associated infections of HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.
 
Refugee camp in Sudan. (USAID)

Refugee camp in Sudan. (USAID)


Growing numbers of people are moving within and across national borders after being forced from their homes by war, poverty, or famine. According to some estimates, 1 billion people could be displaced by 2050. Displaced people often bring their livestock, plants, or companion animals with them, increasing the variety of pathogens and vectors that accompany such journeys. Such refugees frequently live in crowded, unsafe conditions that exacerbate the transmission of infectious diseases. Rural to urban migration, for example, has led to increased HIV transmission in Africa.

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Disease Watchlist

What do you know about infectious disease?

True or False: Washing your hands with soaps that have residue-producing antibacterial products, such as those containing the chemical triclosan, have been proven to confer health benefits.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Washing with regular soap is considered the most important way to prevent disease transmission. Routine consumer use of residue-producing antibacterial products has no added benefit and may actually contribute to antibiotic resistance.

  • Correct!

    Washing with regular soap is considered the most important way to prevent disease transmission. Routine consumer use of residue-producing antibacterial products has no added benefit and may actually contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Infectious Disease Defined

Bioterrorism

The deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other biological agents to cause illness and death in people, animals, or plants.

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National Academies Press

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