Factors in the Increase in Emerging Infectious Disease

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Overview

As an NIH infectious disease scientist with the major international conference looming, you must now analyze the information and the data you have collected investigating disease outbreaks to decide which factor has the most detrimental effect on contributing to increased deadly infectious disease outbreaks around the world.

You will need a thorough understanding of the major factors causing the increases in order to choose the one factor that is most responsible. This is a difficult task. A conference panel of expert researchers will decide which factor to address based on the evidence you present. If they agree with your assessment, your team may be chosen to lead the worldwide effort to mitigate the impact.


Scenario

As a research scientist working for the

aerial view of Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland. Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki
/File:Views_of_Geneva.jpg

National Institutes of Health (NIH), you have been investigating infectious disease and gathering data worldwide for months. You and your team have visited remote locations in dense jungles in Gabon to track down disease contacts, walked rolling savannas in Ethiopia to investigate possible disease vectors, and taken water samples in overcrowded inner cities in Haiti looking for contaminants. You have compiled research on varying aspects of disease characteristics and your colleagues are now gathering to share their experiences and preliminary findings with other teams from worldwide health agencies.

You and your team of investigators are going to address a World Health Organization (WHO) international panel on the critical issue of emerging infectious disease at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Other teams of investigators will also be presenting the results of their studies around the world. Your fellow scientists are also friends. They are returning from some of the world’s hot spots of disease—some of the same locations that you have visited. You have many stories to share; you are glad to see them again, but everyone knows what huge tasks lay ahead.

Recent outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging diseases have alarmed you and other experts in your field. Diseases occurring in more frequent outbreaks and in regions that have never experienced certain diseases before are causes for concern.

With each new outbreak, the public call

microscope image of the Zika virus (red spheres)
Transmission electron microscope image of the Zika virus (red, spherical shapes). Image: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith. https://phil.cdc.gov/phil/details.asp

for answers increases, only to quickly fade when the crisis appears to be over. You think of the Zika virus outbreak that spread from many Central and South America countries to the U.S.  The public did not particularly care about a relatively unknown virus that appeared sporadically in Africa. When it caused devastating birth defects in Brazil and traveled to the U.S., it certainly got some attention. Months later, with colder weather affecting the mosquito vector that carries Zika virus, the outbreak died out –and so did public interest in infectious disease threats.

You know that the threat didn’t go away. You know the next outbreak is out there ready to strike; recent outbreaks have proven that. Outbreaks of novel viruses, antibiotic-resistant strains of deadly bacteria, and re-emerging diseases have increased dramatically in the last few years. Why?

Tasks

The WHO has convened an international panel of scientists, epidemiologists, and public health officers to discuss the potential causes of the increased disease occurrences and to construct a formal plan to address the issue. With the major international conference looming, you must now analyze the information and the data you have collected to decide which factor has the most detrimental effect on contributing to increased deadly infectious disease outbreaks around the world.

This conference requires more than a standard report citing data and displaying results in tables and graphs. Analysis of the various factors that contribute to emerging infectious diseases will be required to fully present an accurate picture of the state of infectious disease in the world today.

You and your team will be presenting your research and conclusions to the international panel and will participate in the discussion, draw conclusions, and make recommendations for countering the major cause of increased outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging diseases. You will need a thorough understanding of the major factors causing the increases in order to choose the one factor that is most responsible. This is a difficult task. The panel will decide which factor to address based on the evidence you present. If they agree with your assessment, your team may be chosen to lead the worldwide effort to mitigate the impact.

 

Guiding Questions:

  1. What are the causes of increasing outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases worldwide?

            What factors have led to an increase in infectious diseases in different regions of the world?
How widespread is each factor?

  1. What diseases are generally caused by different factors?

            What are the effects of the diseases?  What are the death rates for the diseases? How serious are the consequences if a person survives? How many people are generally affected?

  1. What is your team’s choice for the factor which contributes most to the increasing numbers of infectious disease outbreaks?

Be able to defend your choice to the panel.
Does your choice for the most influential factor worldwide differ from the factor for the U.S.? Explain.

  1. The panel must agree on the leading factor that causes an increase in emerging and re-emerging disease outbreaks/epidemics. What evidence led you and your team to decide on that factor?

            Did factors presented by other teams cause you to change your mind? Explain.

  1. After the panel agrees on a factor, what recommendations do you and your team have for mitigating the effects of the factor or for eliminating it? Be specific.

            What can be done to decrease the incidences of emerging and re-emerging disease?

What are the pros and cons of each strategy? (Example: A strategy may be effective in killing a pathogen, but too expensive for many third-world countries to implement.)

 

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