Globalization and the changing nature of infectious disease

The processes of globalization potentially influence a broad range of biological, environmental and social factors that affect the burden of many important human infections. This report considers the nature of infections and how, in simple terms, globalization may increase or decrease the distribution, spread and impact of infectious diseases in a given  population.

An infection occurs when a micro-organism survives and multiplies within another, usually larger, organ- ism. The infected organism (e.g. human being) is called the host. In infectious diseases, unwanted signs and symptoms usually result from damage to the tissues and organs of the host, and the micro-organ- ism is known as a pathogen. A huge variety of pathogens cause human infections, ranging from sub- cellular viruses that cause lung infections in children to complex protozoan (e.g. the malaria parasite) and multicellular (e.g. filarial worms) organisms.

To trigger infection, pathogens must first reach the host., where they may survive unnoticed unless an internal or external event (for example, the herpes virus) triggers the disease. In most cases, pathogens reach the human host from the external environment through a variety of transmission systems (see examples in Box 1). The transmission system in operation determines which factors are capable of enhancing or inhibiting the spread of a particular infectious  disease.

  • Transmission of infectious diseases
  • infectious diseases and the natural environment
  • Preventing and treating human infections
  • Projections of the health impacts of global environmental change
  • Global climate change and vector-borne diseases

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