The Global Village of Infectious Disease: The Beat Goes On

Ever since it became known that Ebola virus disease was in Dallas, Texas, it has been front page news. That remains the case even though health authorities agree it won’t spread to any significant degree, for example, outside of the patient’s immediate family.

But authorities agree on something else too, something vastly more important, because, unlike Ebola, it’s likely to affect you and me: the fact that infectious diseases of all kinds are growing – and moving – worldwide. That is the real takeaway from the Ebola outbreak; from the SARS outbreak before that, and from HIV/AIDS before that – we in North America are not only not immune from the trend, we’re in the crosshairs.

Scientists figured this out at least 6 years ago, and just 3 graphics help us understand the story. The first is a map of the regions of the world where there is a high risk for future or emerging infectious disease events to occur. Notice the prominent role of the US and Europe:

The next point is that not only are infectious diseases on the move, they’re becoming increasingly resistant to standard antibiotic treatment; for example:


And what’s one of the biggest reasons for all this? Global air travel:


Where we and our air cargo go, the bugs go, as we witnessed with the man who brought Ebola from Africa to Texas. We saw the same thing happen with the spread of SARS in 2003 and the pandemic influenza of 2009, where the rapid global spread of disease occurred through major travel hubs.

Today, our world population is just over 7 billion people; by 2050 it’s estimated to be 9 billion, suggesting these disease trends will continue. But there’s one more thing that we haven’t even touched on that may have the greatest impact of all: climate change. Our best scientists agree it will affect the spread of infectious disease – but exactly in what ways, is the (epic?) story yet to be told.

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