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Emergent diseases are infectious diseases whose incidence in humans has increased in the past two decades or threatens to increase in the near future.  These diseases can occur worldwide (pandemic), and may include the following:

  • Old infections reemerging as a result of antimicrobial resistance due to evolutionary change.
  • Known infections spreading to new populations.
  • Previously unrecognized infections.
  • Zoonotic diseases (transmissible from vertebrate animals to man).

An historical example of an emergent disease was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. This global epidemic killed about 30 to 40 million people worldwide.  As written by Isaac Starr, 3rd year medical student, University of Pennsylvania in 1918... “As their lungs filled … the patients became short of breath and increasingly cyanotic. After gasping for several hours they became delirious and incontinent, and many died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth. It was a dreadful business.”      
With the advent of penicillin and antibiotics in the 1930’s, most epidemic diseases including TB, cholera, thyphoid fever, diphtheria, and many others were considered to be eradicated.  Along with the mobilization of populations into new areas of the world, the lack of immunization, and additional factors, we are again facing the issue of these re-emergent diseases.  In addition to old diseases reappearing, there are newly emergent diseases we are battling such as AIDS, SARS, MRSA, ebola, and mad cow disease.