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Are All Diseases Infectious?

Bennett Lorber, MD, DSc
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From Temple University Hospital and School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For the current author address, see end of text. Acknowledgments: The author thanks Kenneth Hiebert (graphic designer, neighbor, and friend) for help with the figure and Peter I. Axelrod, MD, and Jay R. Kostman, MD, for review of the manuscript. Requests for Reprints: Bennett Lorber, MD, Section of Infectious Diseases, Temple University Hospital, Broad and Ontario Streets, Philadelphia, PA 19140.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1996;125(10):844-851. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-125-10-199611150-00010
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The complex interactions between microorganisms and human hosts include the well-known, traditional infectious diseases and the symbiotic relation we have with our normal flora. The media have brought to the public's attention many newly described infectious diseases, such as Ebola virus hemorrhagic fever, that were not part of common medical parlance a decade ago. While flooding us with interesting and often dramatic reports of so-called emerging infectious diseases, the media have largely ignored a more fundamental change in our appreciation of human-microorganism interactions: the discovery that transmissible agents may play important roles in diseases not suspected of being infectious in origin. A well-known example is ulcer disease; other examples include neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory disease, and cancer. These fascinating instances of host-pathogen interaction open new prospects for the prevention of disease through immunization.


Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1. Since smallpox was consigned to history almost two decades ago, the weight of these new afflictions has tipped the scales. Fortunately, it appears likely that polio will be eradicated in the next few years.
The pathogens and infectious diseases on the left side of the balance were not part of common medical parlance a decade ago.
Grahic Jump Location




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