Infectious diseases may be more tractable thanks to recent significant scientific advances. Newly discovered techniques for detecting and treating these illnesses can help prevent serious epidemics.
In a phenomenon called infection tolerance, the body ramps up efforts to repair damage caused by the immune response. For example, when the body fights an infection, free radicals are produced, and so more anti-oxidants will be released to compensate. Researchers speculate that because of this, people can carry and spread infections without themselves showing any symptoms.
This is a well-known feature of plant immunity but is largely unstudied in animals, including humans. The scientists believe that in many cases, disease is not due to the immune system not doing its job but by the tolerance mechanisms failing to be fully effective.
Other researchers have found a way to quickly detect the presence of infection. Current tests for infectious disease can take days to properly identify the particular pathogen responsible, during which the illness can spread and effective treatment is delayed. With a newly developed portable device, the nature of the illness can be pinpointed within minutes. The sooner doctors know what’s wrong with the patient, the sooner they can start a treatment program and the more effective it is likely to be.
Moreover, when the disease is caught early, its spread through the population can be promptly counteracted and prevented. Fast detection is key to avoiding outbreaks.