Friday, July 28, 2017 10:54

From Warfare To Prevention

Posted by on Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 17:42
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The origins of human suffering have always been more infectious than has been supposed. By all indications this generalization still holds true. Like other advancements in science, this new understanding of disease has the potential both for damaging and for enhancing the quality of human life. The recognition that pathogens are prone to evolutionary change raises the question of what good or ill human society will make of this new knowledge.

First, it is important to remember that the newly recognized realms of infection are populated by chronic diseases as one moves from the acute to the chronic. Imagine how impotent a biological weapon would be if, like HTLV-1, it caused cancers in only one out of twenty five infected individuals and did so sixty years after the targets were infected.

The shortcomings of biological weapons go a long way toward reducing the threat of their use, but they do not go all the way. The dangers must still be identified and guarded against to reduce the threat. If anyone could get away with conducting large scale lethal experiments on human to generate a vicious biological weapon, the new information would indeed be very dangerous. But with safeguards against such possibilities, the pros far outweigh the cons.

To protect against the abuse of this new knowledge, we must make sure that such safeguards are in place, even if it means the abrogation of the sovereignty of any goverment that would dare to conduct experiments on humans that are designed to enhance virulence.

The world is not as safe as it would be, but it seems safe enough to make good use of the new biological knowledge. To take full advantage of the health benefits arising from the emerging understanding of the evolution of virulence, we need to adjust our environments to do the opposite of what a terrorist would do. We need to selectively disfavor transmission of harmful strains.

One of the greatest difficulties encountered by traditional approaches to controlling disease for good or ill is the flexibility of some pathogens. This flexibility is a difficult for use if we are fighting against it when , for example, we use antimalarials to try to suppress the versatile agents of malaria. But the flexibility of an infectious organism can also be a part of the solution to disease control.

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