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University of St. Andrews, UK
Respiratory infections together probably represent the most important preventable cause of premature death worldwide. Respiratory viruses and Streptococcus pneumonia take an enormous toll on children in developing countries. In later life tuberculosis is responsible for more than 3 million deaths a year among individuals in the most productive period of... read moretheir lives. Broncho-pneumonia is often a cause of death in the elderly and, far from it being the “old man’s friend”, data shows that many older patients who die of pneumonia were fit and active before the illness. Thus, there is a growing recognition of the importance of respiratory infection in “life-long” medicine.
There have been many important developments in treating and preventing respiratory infections. Tuberculosis is now a major focus for drug development with commercial companies joining a growing group of academics in developing, testing and implementing novel compounds. We have seen the introduction of new vaccines for pneumococcal infection that will, in time, be part of childhood immunization for children throughout the world. Antibiotic resistance in respiratory pathogens is a major challenge with research into mechanisms and development of new compounds underway. In the last few years the world has suffered a pandemic of influenza which was mercifully mild. Concerns remain that the mild “swine flu” could recombine with the more virulent “avian flu” and create a pandemic strain as virulent as the post World War I “Spanish flu”.
The technological revolution caused by whole genome sequencing of respiratory pathogens is opening avenues of new understanding of respiratory pathogens.