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.

Explore Other Topics

Disease Watchlist

What do you know about infectious disease?

True or False: Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that was used in some vaccines and other products, has been shown to present a risk to human health.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    The use of thimerosal has been an object of controversy, with some arguing that the substance caused autism in children. However, extensive independent research has presented no convincing evidence of harm associated with the low levels of thimerosal previously present in vaccines.

  • Correct!

    The use of thimerosal has been an object of controversy, with some arguing that the substance caused autism in children. However, extensive independent research has presented no convincing evidence of harm associated with the low levels of thimerosal previously present in vaccines.

Infectious Disease Defined

Recombinant Technology

The process that allows technicians to create artificial pieces of DNA in which two or more DNA sequences, often from separate organisms, are combined in ways that would not normally occur naturally.

View our full glossary

National Academies Press

Search the National Academies Press website by selecting one of these related terms.