Although emerging infections is a relatively new field of study, many of the diseases it researches have beset mankind for centuries and, along with new emerging infections, are the direct causes of more than 15 million deaths worldwide each year. Millions more die as a result of prior infections such as streptococcal rheumatic heart disease or because of the complications associated with chronic infections.

Among the ‘plagues’ or ‘pestilences’ familiar to students of history are the Black Death, which is believed to have killed up to half the population of medieval Europe, and smallpox and measles, which are known to have decimated indigenous populations of North and South America when imported by European conquerors, causing millions of deaths and destroying entire civilizations. More recently, the ...

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