Special Feature Environmental change, pathogens and human linkages

Ecological Research

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1017-1026

First online:

Evolution of virulence, environmental change, and the threat posed by emerging and chronic diseases

  • Paul W. EwaldAffiliated withDepartment of Biology and the Program on Disease Evolution, University of Louisville Email author 


Assessments of future threats posed by infection have focused largely on zoonotic, acute disease, under the rubric “emerging diseases.” Evolutionary and epidemiological studies indicate, however, that particular aspects of infrastructure, such as protected water supplies, vector-proof housing, and health care facilities, protect against the emergence of zoonotic, acute infectious diseases. While attention in the global health community has focused on emerging diseases, there has been a concurrent, growing recognition that important chronic diseases, such as cancer, are often caused by infectious agents that are already widespread in human populations. For economically prosperous countries, the immediacy of this threat contrasts with their infrastructural protection from severe acute infectious disease. This reasoning leads to the conclusion that chronic infectious diseases pose a more significant threat to economically prosperous countries than zoonotic, acute infectious diseases. Research efforts directed at threats posed by infection may therefore be more effective overall if increased efforts are directed toward understanding and preventing infectious causes of chronic diseases across the spectrum of economic prosperity, as well as toward specific infrastructural improvements in less prosperous countries to protect against virulent, acute infectious diseases.


Evolution Virulence Transmission Emerging diseases Infection