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    April 24, 2020

    Emerging Infectious Diseases in 2020

    2020 will be known as the year of the coronavirus, and with infectious diseases at the front of everyone’s minds, we thought that now would be the time to take a look at emerging infectious diseases circling the globe.

    According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, emerging infectious diseases include outbreaks of previously unknown diseases, known infectious diseases rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range, or persistence of infectious diseases that cannot be controlled. Sound familiar?

    Let’s take a look at three major infectious diseases on the radar of health professionals this year.

    Coronavirus (COVID-19)

    We couldn’t write about emerging infectious diseases without mentioning the disease on everyone’s minds: the novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

    There are six types of human coronaviruses, one of which created an epidemic in 2003: severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, is the infectious disease caused by the newly discovered coronavirus.

    Most people who get COVID-19 experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without the need for special treatment, though the virus affects people in different ways. Symptoms generally resemble the flu, including:

    • Fever
    • Tiredness
    • Dry cough
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sore throat
    • Aches and pains

    People experiencing mild symptoms should self-isolate and remain at home. Individuals who are symptomatic and have difficulty breathing should call their doctor immediately.


    Ebola is an older virus which began as an outbreak in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, reappearing as an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017 and again as an outbreak in the Equateur Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018.

    The outbreaks happened in these areas because of their proximity to tropical rainforests and populations of fruit bats, which are thought to be natural carriers of Ebola. Unfortunately, while Ebola is not as widespread as COVID-19, it is considerably more brutal.

    Formally known as Ebola virus disease (EVD), Ebola has a case fatality rate of around 50%, though fatality rates have varied between 25% and 90% in previous outbreaks.

    Primary symptoms of Ebola take between 2 to 21 days to appear. The virus typically begins with “dry” symptoms (fever, severe headache, muscle and joint pain, fatigue) before progressing to “wet” symptoms (diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases internal and external bleeding).


    Zika is another virus that received attention a few years ago when it caused a sudden outbreak in 2007 in Micronesia and again in French Polynesia in 2013-2014. It was declared a pandemic in 2016 when it caused a sudden rash of cases in the Commonwealth of Dominica.

    Interestingly, Zika was once thought to be a mild illness. The truth isn’t quite that simple.

    Most people who are infected with Zika will have mild symptoms or (more likely) no symptoms at all. Those who do have symptoms tend to have:

    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Rash
    • Joint and muscle pain
    • Red eyes

    Symptoms only last a few days to a week, and people usually don’t get sick enough to be hospitalized. Deaths are even rarer. Furthermore, someone who has already been infected is likely to be protected in the future.

    The greatest risk is for pregnant women – not so much the woman as her unborn child. A Zika infection during pregnancy can cause severe brain defects such as microcephaly and is linked to other birth defects, as well as stillbirth, miscarriage, and higher incidence of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nervous system disease in which the immune system attacks nerve cells.

    Responding to Emerging Infectious Diseases

    We understand that these are incredibly difficult times. But the key to fighting emerging infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus, is knowledge. We hope that you share this knowledge with your employees and encourage them to seek out additional resources from the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and other leading healthcare organizations to stay safe during the pandemic.

    For more information on the intersection of the coronavirus and occupational health and safety, make sure to check out our blog for more posts, like this one on the importance of PPE during coronavirus.

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