New infections identified since 1918
A timeline of infectious diseases
When the Black Death struck Europe, people were defenceless. They had no natural immunity to the disease, little knowledge of good hygiene and sanitation, and no vaccines – or any modern medicine at all. Now, with our awareness of the causes of disease, high standards of hygiene, and drugs and vaccines, we are much better off.
We can now anticipate many of the possible pandemic diseases and take steps to prevent them or lessen their impact. But enormous challenges remain, both scientiﬁc and political.
The timeline below includes just a selection of the new diseases that emerged during 20th and early 21st centuries.
NB: Dates refer to when an infectious agent was identiﬁed or an infectious disease ﬁrst described. Agents may have been present earlier. HIV, for example, probably crossed into humans in the 1930s.
1918: Spanish ﬂu
1937: West Nile virus
1956: Asian ﬂu
1967: Marburg virus
1968: Hong Kong ﬂu
1969: Lassa fever
1976: Legionnaires’ disease, Ebola virus
1977: Lyme disease
1981: HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
1986: BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy)
1987: Hepatitis C virus
1993: Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
1996: vCJD (variant Creuzfeldt–Jakob disease)
1998: Nipah virus
2002: SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)
2003: Human H5N1 avian flu
2005: Chikungunya virus
2006: XDR-TB (extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis)
2012: MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, pictured above)Lead image:
NIAID/Flickr CC BY