Washington, November 22 : American researchers at the National Institute of Allergyh and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) say that modern plagues share certain common features with ancient ones.
Talking about their observations in an article in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, they have pointed out that international trade and troop movement during wartime played a role in both the emergence of the Plague of Athens in 430 B.C. as well as in the spread of influenza during the pandemic of 1918-19.
"There appear to be common determinants of disease emergence that transcend time, place and human progress," says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, one of the study authors.
The authors of the report further state that other factors underlying many instances of emergent diseases are poverty, lack of political will, and changes in climate, ecosystems and land use.
"A better understanding of these determinants is essential for our preparedness for the next emerging or re-emerging disease that will inevitably confront us," says Dr. Fauci.
Dr. David Morens, another NIAID author, adds: "The art of predicting disease emergence is not well developed. We know, however, that the mixture of determinants is becoming ever more complex, and out of this increased complexity comes increased opportunity for diseases to reach epidemic proportions quickly."
The authors highlight the fact that more people travel more often over greater distances, and in less time, these days than at any time in the past.
According to them, one consequence of the increased mobility in the modern age can be seen in the 2003 outbreak of the novel illness SARS, which rapidly spread from Hong Kong to Toronto and elsewhere as infected passengers travelled by air.
The authors stress the need for research aimed at broadly understanding infectious diseases as well as specifically understanding how disease-causing microorganisms make the jump from animals to humans.
They also say that a lot of consideration should be given to broader, interlinked factors like climate, urbanization, increased international travel and the rise of drug-resistant microbes, and the ways in which these factors combine to spark new epidemics.