By Drs. David Niesel and Norbert Herzog
Sometimes I have to remind myself we are in the 21st Century when I hear that infectious diseases are a leading cause of death among adults and remain the leading cause of death in children. While most of these deaths occur in the developing world, a significant number occur in middle income countries. Vaccines are the most cost effective medical intervention known to prevent infectious diseases. An effective vaccine can significantly reduce the mortality associated with them. However, while we have come a long way, the reality is that we have relatively few effective vaccines.
One leading scientific magazine - "Science" recently asked infectious disease and vaccine experts for their opinions to prioritize vaccine development. This resulted in a ranking of ten infectious diseases in need of a vaccine and took into account the feasibility of producing one. So, in effect this is a top 10 list waiting to save lives.
The top of the survey was Ebola Sudan, which is related to Ebola Zaire that was responsible for the West African outbreak involving more than 28,000 infected people and 11,000 deaths in 2014 and 2015. Remember that although there were only 4 cases in the US, the public was highly concerned about the possibility of Ebola infection spreading in the US. Next on the list is Chikungunya virus, which is spread by mosquitoes. This virus causes debilitating joint and muscle pain and is spreading across the Caribbean. As of January 2016, almost 700 cases in 44 states were already reported in the US.
Also on this top ten list are MERS and SARS, two types of Coronaviruses. MERS, which originated in Saudi Arabia, leads to more than 50 percent mortality and there was recently an outbreak in Korea. For SARS, about 10 percent of infected people die and it caused a world-wide panic in 2004.
Marburg belongs to a group of viruses called Filoviruses, which includes Ebola, that have caused outbreaks in Africa. Marburg, has a much higher mortality rate than Ebola - 80 percent, making it one of the most deadly viruses on the planet. Other viruses from Africa on the list include Lassa and Rift Valley Fever viruses. One bacterium, Salmonella enterica made the list. It is responsible for 6 million annual cases of paratyphoid fever - 90 percent of which occur in Southeast Asia. The last two on the list, Schistosomiasis and hookworm, are tropical diseases caused by parasites. Yet to be considered for this list but the focus of much intensive research is the Zika virus.
While some of these agents seem exotic and across the globe in Asia or Africa, Ebola has taught us that the world is becoming a small place and any infectious disease has the ability to reach our shores. Continue to support biomedical research -you or your friends and family may depend on that next scientific advance leading to a new effective vaccine.
Medical Discovery News is hosted by professors Norbert Herzog at Quinnipiac University, and David Niesel of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at www.medicaldiscoverynews.com.