• Question: Are these infections new to human beings?

    Asked by mrj007 to Eileen, Aggelos, Andrew, Shane on 18 Nov 2012. This question was also asked by gerry.
    • Photo: Eileen Diskin

      Eileen Diskin answered on 18 Nov 2012:

      Hey! That’s a really good question, and is something I’m actually trying to figure out myself! So far, most of the diseases I’ve found are not new infections for humans. Although there a few bacteria I’ve found that aren’t usually found in humans…so it could be especially bad if they do end up causing humans diseases, since we don’t have medicines ready yet for them.

    • Photo: Aggelos Zacharopoulos

      Aggelos Zacharopoulos answered on 21 Nov 2012:

      there are not many bacteria that cause infections to humans that are not known yet. If there is a new infection scientists are quick to identify the bacteria that caused it. Then they can work on making an antibiotic that can be used to kill these bacteria and get rid of the infection.

      The main problem that scientists have at the moment regarding bacteria is that many of them become resistant to the antibiotics that we use to kill them. So the scientists need to come up with new antibiotics to which the bacteria cannot resist. It is a big challenge for those scientists but for the sake of our health I hope they succeed.

    • Photo: Andrew Jackson

      Andrew Jackson answered on 21 Nov 2012:

      scientists are always on the look out for diseases being spread from animals to our farm animals and humans. Every year, flu hits human populations and is often carried by birds that migrate long distances from Asia into Europe.

      On top of the known patterns and slightly different strains of flu virus that come each year, i guess we are most worried about new infections appearing in humans. This happens rarely but it does happen. I remember as a kid that Ebola had been discovered only 3 years before i was born and was being talked about a lot in the science news. This is a horrible and very deadly virus that causes uncontrollable bleeding in humans and can rapidly kill someone. And of course, HIV was talked about all the time when I was growing up as it became more and more common in the 1980s. HIV , which causes the human disease AIDS is believed to have come from primates, has gone on to kill about 30 million people.

      A scientist who works with me, Dr Natalie Cooper, recently studied how infectious diseases jump between species of monkeys and apes. She discovered that there are some infections that when they evolve to jump from one species to another, then they are much more likely to jump on again to another and another species. Its diseases like this that we need to be particularly concerned about.

      She also discovered that being close in geographic terms is also very important, which makes sense because to catch something from another species, you need to be close to it. I think emergences of diseases like this will become more and more common as humans keep moving in on land where animals have been happily living for thousands of years.