In a 2007 report, the World Health Organization warned that the number of diseases dangerous to humanity is growing rapidly. More than 40 new infectious diseases alone were discovered between the 1970s and 2007. Since then, the trend has not only continued, but has accelerated even more. If in the International Classifier of Diseases, approved by WHO in the same 2007 (ICD-10), according to rough estimates, about 14,400 names of disorders were mentioned, then in ICD-11 (according to preliminary data, it will enter into force in 2022) there are already about 55 thousand diseases. But researchers fear that by the 2020s, the list of diseases known to mankind will increase even more.
Where do new diseases come from?
Not so long ago, mankind did not know not only about AIDS , bird and swine flu, Ebola, Zika, but allergies, obesity, depression , and oncology that are already familiar to modern people in the twentieth century were something out of the ordinary. Where do new diseases come from? This question has been of interest to researchers for a long time, and today there are already several versions.
According to UN forecasts, by 2050 the world’s population will reach approximately 10 billion people. All of these people will need a place to live and food. And this means only one thing: the processes of migration, urbanization and the development of new, not yet inhabited territories, will accelerate.
- Where do new diseases come from?
- Factors causing new infections
- The principle of the formation of new diseases
- Recent discoveries of scientists
- What diseases can threaten a person in the near future
From the point of view of virologists and researchers studying the nature of human diseases, this is a very frightening trend, contributing to the emergence of new and the spread of already known pathogens in uncharacteristic locations. For example, as a result of the “cultivation” of wild territories, large predators leave them, and small rodents, such as rats and mice, quickly multiply and spread pathogens dangerous to humans.
When scientists talk about new diseases, they usually mean either infections that began to infect a person quite recently, or diseases that have gone beyond their geographic boundaries and spread rapidly, threatening a large number of people.
New diseases can be caused by the following reasons:
- previously unknown infectious agents;
- by already known agents that have spread to new, uncharacteristic territories for themselves, or have begun to infect populations that were previously resistant to the virus;
- agents whose role in specific diseases has not been previously recognized;
- the reappearance of viruses that in the past caused disease, but over time the incidence of disease has significantly decreased, and now it has resumed. This class of diseases is known as re-emerging infections.
In addition, there is the possibility of diseases caused by viruses deliberately introduced into populations of humans, animals or plants. In this case, they talk about biological weapons. Anthrax, smallpox and tularemia are considered the most dangerous of the agents known to date that can be used in bioterrorism.
Factors causing new infections
There are many factors that scientists associate with the emergence of new infectious diseases. Some are the result of natural processes such as the evolution of pathogens. But many are a consequence of human activity.
At least two events must occur for specialists to recognize the emergence of a new disease. First, the infectious agent must enter the body of a vulnerable person, and secondly, the virus must be able to spread freely, infecting new people.
Many of the new diseases arise when infectious agents that previously exclusively affected animals are transmitted to humans. These are the so-called zoonoses. As the population grows and the geographic boundaries of human habitat expand, the likelihood that people will begin to come into closer contact with animals that are potential carriers of infection increases.
Another important factor that can cause another outbreak of disease is the acquired resistance of pathogens to antimicrobial drugs. Bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms can evolve over time and develop drug resistance. Therefore, drugs that have been effective in the past may become useless over time. In addition, the misuse of antimicrobial agents by humans, without a doctor’s recommendation, also leads to drug resistance of pathogens.
Climate change is also increasingly cited as a factor in the emergence of new infectious diseases. For example, warming has allowed mosquitoes (and the diseases they carry) to expand their range and repopulate regions where they have not previously been encountered. In new conditions for themselves, pathogens carried by insects begin to mutate. As a result, humanity receives an unpleasant surprise in the form of a new, previously unknown disease.
The principle of the formation of new diseases
Influenza is a prime example of how, due to both natural and human factors, pathogens can mutate. The influenza virus is notorious for its ability to mutate genetically. If very strong changes occur, then the flu can cause a pandemic, since the immune system of most people does not have memory cells for this pathogen and will not be ready to recognize a new enemy in order to defend against it.
The risks of serious mutations increase when humans coexist in close proximity to farm animals such as pigs, chickens, or ducks. These animals are natural carriers of the influenza virus and can play the role of a “vessel” in which different strains of the virus mix to create new ones. The H5N1 avian influenza virus (avian) originated over 20 years ago in Hong Kong. At first, the infection only got into the organisms of people who were in direct contact with birds, but at some point the situation changed and the number of infected increased dramatically. The H5N1 virus is fatal to humans: half of the infections were fatal. So far, this pathogen is not able to spread very quickly among people, but if genetic changes occur in it, it can cause a pandemic on the planet. In contrast, the H1N1 virus, known as swine flu, can spread easily from person to person. An outbreak that broke out in 2009 showed that this type of flu is able to spread across the planet faster than any other. But, fortunately, it is not as deadly as the bird. Although if mutated, it can also turn into a serious threat to humanity.
SARS and MERS (Very Severe Respiratory Diseases) cases are another example of how quickly infectious diseases can spread throughout the world and affect people in regions where these diseases are entirely new.
Another example of a relatively new infectious disease is HIV . It is believed that the first time humans were infected with HIV was after close contact with chimpanzees. Perhaps this happened while hunting wild animals in isolated regions of Africa. It is possible that then HIV spread from rural areas to cities, and then to other continents.
One example of a tropical disease that has recently spread to new regions is the chikungunya virus. The carrier of the infection is a special type of mosquito that lives in the Indian Ocean region. But in 2014, outbreaks of chikungunya fever were reported in countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. This virus is not fatal to humans, but it serves as a warning that more terrible tropical infections can spread and mutate in the same way.
Recent discoveries of scientists
Candida auris is a new type of fungus that causes invasive candidiasis (the fungus enters the bloodstream, affects the nervous system, kidneys, liver, muscles, joints, bone tissue, spleen, eyes). The uniqueness of this mushroom is that it is resistant to most medications. It is difficult to detect using classical yeast identification methods, as the fungus masquerades as other Candida species. It can survive on surfaces even after being treated with strong disinfectants. The fungus was first discovered in Japan in 2009, but already in 2016 it reached Asia, Europe and the United States. It spreads very quickly in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Kenya, Colombia and Venezuela.
Elizabethkingia anophelis is a new bacterium for scientists that causes neonatal meningitis. The first case of the disease provoked by this bacillus was recorded in 2016 in the United States. Similar cases have been reported in Central Africa and Singapore. Of the 61 confirmed cases of Elizabethkingia anophelis infection, 21 have been fatal. Today, the methods of transmission and infection of the infection are poorly understood.
Dysphoria – This new term refers to a modern type of psychological disorder that manifests itself in a state of anxiety, anxiety and dissatisfaction with life. There is now a lot of scientific evidence that the use of smartphones and other “smart” gadgets leads to disorientation and anxiety. The problem with new smart technologies is that they disrupt the usual ways of thinking and communication: users jump from site to site (without staying on one page for a long time), as a result of which they lose the ability to extract deep meaning from the information read / seen. And it is also one of the new diseases of modern man.
Selfitis is a completely new mental disorder, which consists in the constant desire of a person to photograph himself with a smartphone. Scientists have even divided the manifestation of the disease into stages. The first is when a person takes a selfie at least three times a day, but does not post his photos on social networks. At the second stage, the selfist has not yet turned to photographing himself / herself, always and everywhere, but all the photos that he has are immediately posted on the Internet. The third stage of selfitis can be suspected if a person has more than 6 personal photos on a page on a social network every day.
The line between rest and addiction is sometimes very thin. Back in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association named addiction to the Internet and computer games as a problem requiring close attention. In ICD-10, gambling addiction is not yet listed as a real disease, but in the 11th edition of the classifier this disease already exists. Research by researchers at Columbia University has shown that people with gambling addiction often suffer from a variety of mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. As advances in virtual reality technology make games more immersive and “real,” the researchers speculate, addiction among gamers will only grow.
In addition, the researchers identify two more problems that threaten humanity through the Internet. These are cyberchondria and cyberchondria. Cyberchordia is a chronic reluctance to delete information collected on the network. Cyberchondria is an obsessive desire to use search engines and sites for self-diagnosis, as well as in order to find confirmation of your medical fears. By the way, according to scientists, both problems are underestimated today, but they exist and are spreading rapidly.
For the first time, scientists started talking about a new disease, keyboard tendonitis, in 2005. The disease occurs in people who write a lot of messages on phones or other gadgets. This results in pain and swelling in the fingers. The illness is often accompanied by dizziness, muscle pain, and loss of appetite .
New genetic diseases
Russian geneticist Nadezhda Maksimova discovered and described a new genetic disorder that causes the death of babies. The cause of the disease is gene mutations. Consequence – in babies there is an irreversible metabolic disorder, due to which the life expectancy is no more than three years.
Today, no less than 600 diseases are known that are triggered by mutations in human genes. One of these is the syndrome of chronic atrial fibrillation. The disease was discovered by Canadian scientists. Patients are simultaneously diagnosed with a slowing of the heart rate, requiring implantation of a pacemaker, and chronic intestinal obstruction, requiring the patient to be completely transferred to parenteral nutrition.
All phobias, of course, cannot be enumerated. We will tell only about the most amazing, open and described in recent years. One of the most common is boss phobia, that is, fear of the leader. Telephonophobia occurs among those who, for various reasons, are afraid to talk on the phone. If the risk of getting stuck in a traffic jam causes a person to experience severe panic, then this is a traffic phobia. Nowadays it has become fashionable to lead a healthy lifestyle and keep fit. But for many girls (and not only girls), the appearance of even 1 extra kilogram ends in a deep anxiety-depressive state. Psychologists say that this is not just a person’s whim, but a real thick-phobia – the fear of getting better.
What diseases can threaten a person in the near future
Even the most experienced specialists find it difficult to predict with precision what new diseases may still threaten a person in the near future, but some of the dangers look quite realistic.
E. coli, antibiotic resistant
Experts have been talking about the possible emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotics for decades. The reason for this is the abuse of antibiotics, both in medicine and in animal husbandry. Also, experts do not advise placing very high hopes on the fact that a new, stronger antibiotic will be developed. There is no infinite number of compounds that can kill bacteria without harming humans. Researchers at George Washington University suggest that the antibiotic-resistant bacterium E. coli (E. coli) may not be the cause of the death of civilization, but it will make humanity as vulnerable as it was before the discovery of antibiotics.
Deadly diseases caused by ticks
Tick-borne Lyme disease has long gone beyond its geographical boundaries. Nowadays, the disease affects people even in those regions where they did not even know about its existence before. And every year the situation only gets worse, and viruses transmitted by ticks in the near future may mutate.
Everyone knows that the climate on the planet is changing. In what used to be known as arid areas, warm, continuous rains have been increasing in recent years. This can lead to the migration of mosquitoes to new lands. Changing the habitat of mosquitoes can lead to the spread of diseases transmitted through their bites and the formation of new diseases due to mutations of viruses inside the mosquito. The result is new diseases.
Viruses from arctic permafrost
Scientists suggest that viruses that are incredibly dangerous for humanity are stored in the permafrost. By the way, researchers have already found the DNA of a virus in the Siberian ice, which is about 30 thousand years old. Scientists say deep ocean sediments and permafrost are very good preservatives for microbes and viruses. The surface layers of the permafrost are melting and every year faster and faster, releasing microorganisms trapped in the permafrost. If the most dangerous of them reach the surface, it could end in a planetary epidemic.
Diseases of the immune system caused by nanoparticles
Nanoparticles are microscopic elements of natural or synthetic origin. These days they are used in everything from pharmaceuticals to food coloring. Nevertheless, research shows that they can unpredictably disrupt the function of the immune system: to strengthen it or vice versa inhibit it. What’s more, some studies show that nanoparticles can destroy cell membranes and cause DNA damage.
New diseases are a real threat to humanity. Let many of the problems described are still very far from us, but scientists around the world are already struggling to create another “magic pill” that can save the world’s population from potential death.