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Emerging Infectious Diseases


Despite predictions earlier this century that infectious diseases would soon be eliminated as a public health problem (1), infectious diseases remain the major cause of death worldwide and a leading cause of illness and death in the United States. Since the early 1970s, the U.S. public health system has been challenged by a myriad of newly identified pathogens and syndromes (e.g., Escherichia coli O157:H7, hepatitis C virus, human immunodeficiency virus, Legionnaires disease, Lyme disease, and toxic shock syndrome). The incidences of many diseases widely presumed to be under control, such as cholera, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB), have increased in many areas. Furthermore, control and prevention of infectious diseases are undermined by drug resistance in conditions such as gonorrhea, malaria, pneumococcal disease, salmonellosis, shigellosis, TB, and staphylococcal infections (2). Emerging infections place a disproportionate burden on immunocompromised persons, those in institutional settings (e.g., hospitals and child day care centers), and minority and underserved populations. The substantial economic burden of emerging infections on the U.S. health-care system could be reduced by more effective surveillance systems and targeted control and prevention programs (3).

This issue of MMWR introduces a new series, "Emerging Infectious Diseases." Future articles will address these diseases, as well as surveillance, control, and prevention efforts by health-care providers and public health officials. This first article updates the ongoing investigation of an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in the western United States (4).


  1. Burnet M. Natural history of infectious disease. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

  2. Kunin CM. Resistance to antimicrobial drugs -- a worldwide calamity. Ann Intern Med 1993;118:557-61.

  3. Lederberg J, Shope RE, Oaks SC Jr, eds. Emerging infections: microbial threats to health in the United States. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1992.

  4. CDC. Preliminary report: foodborne outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections from hamburgers -- western United States, 1993. MMWR 1993;42:85-6.

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