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

The National Academies

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

New Meeting Places

Any changes that create new intersections between microbes and people pave the way for disease-causing agents to enter our species. One such change that has put us at risk is the global human population explosion—from about 1.6 billion people in 1900 to nearly 7 billion today. Humans have cleared forests for agriculture and suburbanization, leading to closer contact with environments that may harbor novel (or newly introduced) pathogens. Through much of the world’s developing tropical regions, the massive expansion of roads and human settlements has also created transition zones filled with opportunities for contact with potential disease-causing agents.
International trade and travel are associated with the emergence of such infectious agents as the SARS coronavirus and West Nile virus.
Human travel and commerce have brought other risks. Almost 2 million passengers, each a potential carrier of infection, travel daily by aircraft to international destinations. International commerce, especially in foodstuffs, adds to the global traffic of disease-causing microbes. Because the transit times of people and goods are often shorter than the incubation periods of infection, carriers of disease can arrive at their destination before the infection they harbor is detectable. International trade and travel are associated with the emergence of such infectious agents as the SARS coronavirus and West Nile virus.
 
Changes in human demographics and behavior are linked with the emergence of infections such as AIDS and hepatitis C, through sexual activity and intravenous drug use. More broad-scale changes that raise the risk of infectious disease include the breakdown of public health systems, poverty, war, and famine.

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Disease Watchlist

What do you know about infectious disease?

True or False: Not all microbes are harmful to humans.

  • Correct!

    Not all microbes are harmful to humans. In fact, many of them protect us, helping our bodies function properly and competing with harmful organisms in an eternal contest for habitable space in or on our bodies. Although the microorganisms that cause disease often receive more attention, most microorganisms do not cause illness.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Not all microbes are harmful to humans. In fact, many of them protect us, helping our bodies function properly and competing with harmful organisms in an eternal contest for habitable space in or on our bodies. Although the microorganisms that cause disease often receive more attention, most microorganisms do not cause illness.

Infectious Disease Defined

Prion
A causative agent of infectious disease that is composed primarily of protein.

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National Academies Press

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