The history of germs: how can biology majors prevent the spread of the next epidemic?

William Woods Undergraduate

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers analyzed information on infectious disease mortality in the U.S. from 1900 to 2014, finding that, overall, the death rate from infectious disease has dropped from about 800 deaths per 100,000 people in 1900 to 46 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014.

This is with the exception of a few spikes in deaths during certain disease outbreaks, like influenza (aka “Spanish flu pandemic”) in 1918, the HIV/AIDS epidemic between 1980 and 1995, a steady rise in infections transmitted by insects, such as West-Nile, and the diarrheal illness Clostridium Difficile between 1980 to 2014.

Though we have reduced the number of deaths through research, spreading awareness and creating vaccinations, we are still not immune to the spread of infectious diseases or the rise of new, unknown diseases. “…these trends illustrate the continued U.S. vulnerability to infectious diseases,” study authors write.

Today, the biggest killers amongst infectious diseases are the flu and pneumonia, accounting for approximately 40 percent of deaths from infectious diseases.

NPR recently published a three-part video series titled The Uncertain Future of Humans and Germs, featuring the history and origin of germs, how they’ve evolved over time, where germs originally came from, how they have evolved over history, and the discovery of vaccinations and antibiotics to combat them. All three series-episodes can be seen below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Bachelors in biology students at William Woods may take courses like BIO303: Microbiology, where they will discuss structure, physiology, pathogenicity and ecology of microorganisms, particularly focusing on bacteria and viruses.

Students may also take BIO413: Immunology, which takes a deep dive into the fundamental molecular and cellular interactions of the vertebrate immune system, as well as an understanding of both innate immunity and adaptive immunity, how these two branches are integrated, and the influence of the immune system on the rest of the body.

Biology majors who have a curiosity and interest in human health, healing and medicine may also want to consider William Woods Pre-Medicine concentration and speak with their advisor about how to take the next steps in that direction.

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