, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 244-257

Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases: Biocomplexity as an Interdisciplinary Paradigm

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Abstract

Understanding factors responsible for reemergence of diseases believed to have been controlled and outbreaks of previously unknown infectious diseases is one of the most difficult scientific problems facing society today. Significant knowledge gaps exist for even the most studied emerging infectious diseases. Coupled with failures in the response to the resurgence of infectious diseases, this lack of information is embedded in a simplistic view of pathogens and disconnected from a social and ecological context, and assumes a linear response of pathogens to environmental change. In fact, the natural reservoirs and transmission rates of most emerging infectious diseases primarily are affected by environmental factors, such as seasonality or meteorological events, typically producing nonlinear responses that are inherently unpredictable. A more realistic view of emerging infectious diseases requires a holistic perspective that incorporates social as well as physical, chemical, and biological dimensions of our planet’s systems. The notion of biocomplexity captures this depth and richness, and most importantly, the interactions of human and natural systems. This article provides a brief review and a synthesis of interdisciplinary approaches and insights employing the biocomplexity paradigm and offers a social–ecological approach for addressing and garnering an improved understanding of emerging infectious diseases. Drawing on findings from studies of cholera and other examples of emerging waterborne, zoonotic, and vectorborne diseases, a “blueprint” for the proposed interdisciplinary research framework is offered which integrates biological processes from the molecular level to that of communities and regional systems, incorporating public health infrastructure and climate aspects.