In case you haven't heard, there’s a newly emerged disease going around under the name Covid-19. While much of the world’s attention is currently placed squarely on this new pathogenic threat, it isn’t the only disease that’s emerging (or re-emerging) and looming over the fate of humanity.
In a bid to highlight these risks, Dr Anthony Fauci, chief of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and David M Morens, a senior advisor at NIAID, have produced a map that shows the newly emerging diseases and re-emerging diseases that the world is currently facing, and where. The map was created as part of a study by Dr Fauci and Dr Morens accepted for publication in the journal Cell. The study is peer-reviewed and has been released early as a pre-proof in the interest of accessibility.
The map shows some well known old enemies that are currently resurging in some parts of the world, such as cholera, measles, typhoid fever, Ebola, and diphtheria, and a number of newly emerging, often lesser-known, threats like Akhmeta virus, Hendra virus, Bourbon virus, and a range of new influenza strains.
There is also one example of a disease that is "deliberately emerging”: Anthrax bioterrorism. This refers to a number of incidents in the past few decades where the bacterium Bacillus anthracis was used by terrorists as a biological weapon. One of the most prominent examples of this was the 2001 anthrax attacks in the US where letters laced with anthrax were sent to a number of news media offices and Senators, killing five people and sickening at last 17 others.
A number of recent studies and reports have highlighted how humanity’s current relationship with nature is greatly increasing the risk of a disease hopping from an animal host to a human, potentially creating a new zoonotic disease outbreak. Indeed, most of the diseases on this map are zoonotic diseases, clearly highlighting this point. As the world continues to encroach on natural environments and indulge in a ”broken relationship” with nature, the threat of zoonotic disease only becomes higher.
This would be the pessimist’s interpretation of the map. However, it is possible to dig out some optimism from this data. Given how interconnected the world has become, it’s could be considered a feat that many of these infectious diseases have been, or are being, successfully contained through vaccines, medication, and other scientific knowledge and discovery. Of course, as Covid-19 has shown, it’s very easy to stumble as we walk this tightrope.