Let’s take as an example here the influenza virus. It spreads every year and is well known to change every year, with multiple mutations during some seasons.
So every year scientists have to predict where these mutations will head, and create a flu vaccine that can potentially stop them. However, some years they do not get it right, which is why we see spikes in influenza admissions and deaths.
Sometimes influenza changes significantly. In a way that could not be predicted, or coped with. It’s changing that is so dramatic that the human immune system can’t fully recognize it or attack it when it enters the body. Again, that leads to significant spikes in hospital admissions and mortality.
So we have a situation where existing diseases can throw a curveball. When we add to that infectious disease that we haven’t seen before, and you can see how it’s a constant whack a mole to try and keep the population of the world safe.
Where Most Emerging Diseases Come From
Most infectious diseases come from animals. Some are in humans all the time, but infectious diseases tend to emerge when they cross the species barrier.
Because humans have been in close contact with animals for several millennia, and that proximity has increased in closeness in the past few hundred years, the incidence of viruses evolving so they can jump between the species has increased as well.
This has been exacerbated by things like large-scale farming and animal production in modern times. So many animals in close proximity allow the development and spread of the virus far more quickly, and the close proximity of humans to these animals, including the mass scale butchery of them, also helps to accelerate the rate at which emerging diseases evolve and jump from humans to animals.
Let’s look back at the influenza virus again. Chickens, ducks, pigs, and many other animals are strong natural hosts of the influenza virus. They act as a mass mixing vessel that helps to create mutations, novel versions of influenza, and increasingly other illnesses as well, which then readily spread to us.
Avian influenza H5N1 (bird flu) is a variant that was particularly concerning a few years ago. It was highly contagious between animals, and then made the jump into humans. Thankfully, because of rapid attention and action, it was suppressed through mass culling before it could mutate further at a rapid rate to infect humans more readily. So although it was of great concern, and its mortality in humans remains as high as 50%, because it could not be transmitted easily, continued culling and monitoring have kept it under control.
So we have to monitor animals to look for future virus threats. That’s the same with modern respiratory illnesses like SARS, MERS, and Ebola. However, as everyone is now painfully aware, the most recent novel coronavirus escaped our attention, or the warning signs were not transmitted to the world health organization in a timely manner, allowing it to spread rapidly for countermeasures could be put in place.
HIV is another illness that killed millions, especially in Africa. It is thought that HIV mutated and made the jump between chimpanzees and humans. It is possible it is through eating monkeys as “bush meat”, which allowed this mutation and jump between species to happen.
Then modern air travel and modern lifestyles helped to facilitate its rapid spread. Even now, nearly 30 years on, it’s still highly transmissible even though we have created drugs and social conventions that minimize its spread. But again, it’s that close relationship between man and animal which allows the breeding ground of the animal kingdom to create viruses that make the jump to humans very easily.
Things We Can Learn From Research On Emerging Diseases
Smallpox is a classic example of how an infectious disease can be eradicated almost completely. That was done through learning about how it worked mutated, and the development of drugs and vaccines to counter it.
However, even eradicated diseases like smallpox could be reintroduced. The threat of bioterrorism is real and relatively easy to achieve on virus-like smallpox.
So we have the threat of emerging new diseases making the jump between species, and re-emerging diseases that are kept under control, or make the jump again between species due to a set of specific circumstances, through multiple channels.
Influenza, SARS, MERS, tuberculosis, HIV, coronaviruses, Zika, and many others, are all threats that are constantly researched and monitored alongside trying to spot completely new diseases and mutations of existing ones.
On a personal level, to support the research on emerging diseases encountering them, we have to take personal responsibility, something that is becoming even more important in the current world.
Living healthily is becoming more important in its role to aid science. Taking supplements like multivitamins, particularly vitamin D in the northern hemisphere, alongside things like zinc and mineral supplements, can really help the body to prepare more strongly to counter a virus threat.
A strong immune system can also be tailored quite rapidly by eating whole grains, fruit, vegetables, good quality nutritional supplements, and cutting out alcohol. Though simple measures have been shown in multiple studies to increase the strength of our immune systems by as much as 30%.
So if you’re a bodybuilder, we like to have an active lifestyle, don’t worry about that bodybuilding supplement that gives you a big boost of vitamins and minerals, alongside things that increase natural vascularity. They will help you to fight off infection.
And even if you don’t want to work out down the gym, go for a run. Look at supplements that can really help you. Look at vitamins and minerals. Most importantly look at your lifestyle. Cut out poor quality processed foods, and replace them with natural foods. Add to that gentle exercise, and you will help researchers around the world to dampen the effects of emerging diseases without even realizing it.