| "To comprehend the interactions between Homo sapiens and the vast and diverse microbial world, perspectives must be forged that meld such disparate fields such as medicine, environmentalism, public health, basic ecology, primate biology, human behavior, economic development, cultural anthropology, human rights law, entomology, parasitology, virology, bacteriology, evolutionary biology, and epidemology." |
During the mid-1900s, most scientists and policy makers were shifting their attention away from infectious disease as vaccines made polio and several other diseases rare, at least in the developed world. Through an intense vaccination campaign, researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) had eradicated smallpox from the world by the mid-1970s. Most people expected the eradication of other diseases would follow. In the meantime, scientists had created a large array of antibiotics that could easily treat many of the great scourges of history, from leprosy to tuberculosis. Infectious diseases appeared to be on the way out.
This optimistic picture has since changed. Legionnaire's disease, hantavirus, AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), West Nile virus, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) have rocked the public health and scientific communities. New, drug-resistant strains of bacteria have appeared. Tuberculosis and other old diseases, once thought contained, are again a public health concern. In some of these cases the disease-causing agent was previously undescribed. For others, a previously treatable pathogen somehow changed. In addition completely new threats emerged. Where had these new threats come from?