The National Academies

The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

Disease Threats

Our “war” on infectious microbes has restricted the spread of several pathogens and drastically reduced the burden of human disease. But we are a long way from conquering infectious diseases. They account for about one-quarter of deaths worldwide and in 2015 they caused more than half of the estimated 5.9 million deaths in children under the age of 5. What are some of the most significant microbial threats we face?

Animal Carriers

Animal Carriers

Of the more than 1,700 known viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens that infect people, more than half have come from animals.

What’s the connection between the common cold and horses? Between the measles and cows? Find out the part animals play in the story of infectious disease.

More about animal carriers

Foodborne Pathogens

Foodborne Pathogens

Each year, about one in six Americans becomes infected by something they eat.

E. coli  in spinach. Salmonella in peanut products. Norovirus on cruise ships. Learn more about the microbes behind foodborne illness—and how you can protect yourself.

More about foodborne pathogens

Global Killers

Global Killers

About one-third of the world’s population harbors the tuberculosis (TB) bacterium.

Learn about the deadly role lower respiratory tract infections, diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria play in the world—particularly in developing nations.

More about global killers

Influenza

Influenza

Between 1976 and 2006, annual estimates of deaths from flu-related complications in the United States ranged from 3,000 to 49,000, depending on several factors.

We tend to toss around the term “flu” lightly, but real influenza is serious and may be the illness public health officials fear most. Find out what influenza really is, why it spreads so quickly, and how the seasonal flu differs from a pandemic.

More about influenza

Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic Resistance

About 80% of all the antibiotics produced in the United States are added to animal feeds—not to fend off disease but to boost growth.

Antibiotics, medicines developed to kill harmful bacteria, have saved countless lives since the discovery of the first antibiotic—penicillin—in 1928. But use, and especially misuse and overuse, of these medicines is reducing their effectiveness. Find out why.

More about antibiotic resistance

Chronic Illness & Cancer

Chronic Illness & Cancer

Chronic diseases account for 70% of all deaths in the United States.

The discovery that certain cancers and chronic illnesses are caused by infectious agents is leading researchers to question whether other long-term illnesses may also be caused by infection—and curable with antibiotics. Learn more about the current thinking.

More about chronic illness & cancer

Explore Other Topics

What do you know about infectious disease?

Which of the following is a bacterial infection?

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Strep throat is a bacterial infection. Hookworm is caused by a parasite and chickenpox and influenza are both caused by viruses.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Strep throat is a bacterial infection. Hookworm is caused by a parasite and chickenpox and influenza are both caused by viruses.

  • Correct!

    Strep throat is a bacterial infection. Hookworm is caused by a parasite and chickenpox and influenza are both caused by viruses.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Strep throat is a bacterial infection. Hookworm is caused by a parasite and chickenpox and influenza are both caused by viruses.

Infectious Disease Defined

Fertilized Egg

Sometimes referred to as a zygote, this is the resulting initial cell formed when a sperm cell unites with an egg cell.

View our full glossary

National Academies

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