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Infectious Diseases In The 21st Century

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Describe about the Infectious Diseases in the 21st Century?




In simpler term the contagious disease is referred to as a kind of disease which may be transmitted from one human being to other mainly through physical contact (with infected person). This may happen by touching the infected person or direct contact with infected body parts or the objects already touched by infected person. However in current day health context, this concept has been extended to accommodate many communicable as well as infectious diseases. In general sense, the contagious disease is often taken as something more infectious which can be transmitted, easily and mainly severe in terms its communicable nature. Many times contagious disease is believed to cause epidemics mainly in dense population. Because of this situation, contagious diseases are sometimes considered to be isolated or quarantine for practical reason as part of public health measure (Tognotti, 2013). Among many such contagious diseases, Diphtheria is one which is highly life-threatening and caused by bacteria named as Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Based on the location of infection,diphtheria is of 2 types -- such as cutaneous and respiratory. The former involves skin and the later infects throat, nose and tonsils.


Since Diphtheria as a contagious disease has witnessed variation in prevalence, treatment, vaccination and further transition in its course of development during different centuries, it will be worth to make a ‘compare and contrast’ analysis of the similarities and differences in the 19th and 21st centuries about some of its important perspectives.


Vaccinations and treatment:

It is envisaged by medical fraternity that due to better vaccination and prevention strategies in 21st century compared to 19th century, many of the contagious diseases including Diphtheria will diminish greatly and mainly in terms of their rate of morbidity and fatality (Kumate, 1997).  Even complete elimination of such contagiousness is also being expected.

In the modern days the vaccines again diphtheria and other contagious diseases have emerged to be the most important revolutions of the history of mankind when compared and contrast to nineteenth century developments. Unlike the 19th century where focus was to contain and control the disease only, the 21st century interventions have been able to eliminate diphtheria and many other childhood contagious illnesses that caused millions of deaths in history (Williams, 1997). Hence during twenty-first century the vaccines are going to play major role in safeguarding of health of human being at large. By support from innovations out of new technologies in medical science, vaccines definitely will be able to address further requirements of society of the twenty first century with enhanced life expectancy.


Location (geography) of the diseases

In terms of geographical prevalence of the disease Diphtheria, it is found that this got reported from eastern Mediterranean region in first century but could not get established around Europe till eighteenth century (Hardy, 1992). It is only during the 19th century that is in decade of 1850 -1860, a typical pandemic of the disease emerged which continue across the globe up till end of that century.  The bacteria bacillus family responsible for this disease was subjected to isolation in late 19th century by Theodor Albrecht and further researcher by Johannes Friedrich.For this reason this particular disease bore the name of the researchers for long time across the 19th century. In the later part of the nineteenth century,a lot of research works on this disease diphtheria could play the role of eye-opener and hence the turning pointsfor modern day medicine innovations added with further effective level of prevention. During this 19th century only, many successful types of immunisation campaigns established and proved to be instrumental in paediatrics research across the world. Due to its outbreak during the World War 2, immunisation programs against the disease diphtheria was carried out at country level and, by twentieth century and early twenty first century this disease could  virtually get eliminated from a number of countries including the UK (Lomax, 1994). Unlike the 19thcentury however in the twenty-first century the geographical prevalence of the disease diphtheria change towards African countries due to environmental pollution and poor level medical and public health measures. Hence the focus of the locational strategy during 21st century too changed from developed countries to low developed countries.



In comparison to transition of diphtheria and other contagious disease during nineteenth century which mostly followed declining trend, some similarities and few contrasting changes may be found with twenty-first century. Across the nineteenth century, the importance and focus on the transition in disease’ course and treatment remained strong in all the public health programs. Similarly in twenty-first century too the contagious diseases like diphtheria willcontinue to remain in fore front in terms of important public health issue (Lashley, 2006). However on the other hand, changes such as aging related problems, changing lifestyle prone to infections, growing urbanization, non-parental care to children (day care facilities), junk food, addiction to drugs, tourism, global warming will lead to emergence and even re-emergenceof diphtheria and other contagious diseases. This would happen even if such disease were already controlled during past centuries (say nineteenth centuries). 


Summary and Conclusion:

A healthy body and mind is the most precious requirement of a living being. Therefore it is important to make people aware of the various types of diseases they may be prone to mainly the contagious ones. If they do need to take care of their health and keep the surrounding clean. If one looks back to the 19th century, we can find that diseases like cholera, small pox, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and many more were greatlyattributable tohigh mortality rate across developed countries (Condran, 2008). During that period,there were no many hospitals, allopathic medicines and doctors to cure patients suffering from these dreadly diseases. Countries werenot technologically equipped with the methods to combat with such types of diseases. Wars, floods and other natural and manmade calamities corroded nations with diseases which spread like epidemics. There were no many vaccinations, medicines and scientific instruments to reduce the occurrence of these dreadly diseases. Mostly home-maderemedies, and medicines made of herbs and leaves were the only option available to the patients. Besides, during those times there were no proper means of sanitation and cleanliness, as one finds in twenty-first century modern times. Absence of toilets forced people for open defecation. Though the dreadly diphtheria or whooping cough had its advent from the 17th century, it was mainly responsible for high infant mortality rate. As there wereno vaccines for such diseases they claimed the lives of small children without any cure (Duffy, 1971).

But in the twenty-first century with the advent of globalization, technological inventions and innovation of many scientific instruments and medicines, we have done away with diseases like cholera, diphtheria, small pox, TB etc. In the modern 21st century these diseases have vanished and vaccines for these diseases as well as many other diseases such as measles, chickenpox, TB, yellow fever, meningitis, polio, diarrhoea etc. has been invented. Modern medicines technologically developed medical equipments, highly qualified doctors and surgeons and well sanitized hospitals have changed the scenario all together. In the present times however many new diseases have cropped in which pose a great challenge to the medical fraternity and scientists all over the world. Diseases like swine flu, chicken guinea,dengue,SARS etc have spread their virus all over the world and highly qualified scientists, doctors and researchers are making entering efforts to invent medicines and vaccines for these diseases.

The current discussion that ranges from the evolution of contagious disease with special reference to Diphtheria, and the comparison in vaccination and treatment across nineteenth and twenty first century gives us a fairly good idea about required as public health measure. 



Kumate J 1997, ‘Infectious diseases in the 21st century’, Archivesof Medical Research. Vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 155-161.
Hardy, Anne 1992, ‘Tracheotomy versus intubation: Surgical intervention in diphtheria in Europe and the United States, 1825-1930’, Hist. Med., vol. 66, pp. 536-559
Rino, Rappuoli, Christian, W., Mandl, Steven Black &Ennio De Gregorio 2011, ‘Vaccines for the twenty first century society’, Nature Reviews Immunology,11, pp.865-872.
Nelson, Marie C. 1994, ‘Diphtheria in late-nineteenth-century Sweden: policy and practice’, Continuity and Change, 9, no. 2, pp. 213-242.
Lashley, Felissa R. 2006, ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Beginning of the 21st Century Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, vol.11, no. 1.
Williams, Brian 1997, ‘Infectious Diseases in History: a guide to causes and effects’, Department of Economic and Social History, University of Hull, England.
Duffy, John 1971, ‘Social impact of disease in the Late nineteenth century’, N. Y. Acad. Med. vol. 47, no. 7, pp. 797-810
Tognotti E. 2013, ‘Lessons from the history of quarantine, from plague to influenza’ Emerg Infect Dis, 19, no. 2.
Lomax E .1994, ‘The control of contagious disease in nineteenth century British paediatric hospitals, Soc Hist Med. vol.7, no. 3, pp.383- 400.
Condran, Gretchen A. 2008, ‘The Elusive Role of Scientific Medicine in Mortality Decline: Diphtheria in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Philadelphia’, J Hist Med Allied Sci , vol. 63, no. 4, pp. 484-522.

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