Letter | Published:

Global trends in emerging infectious diseases

Nature volume 451, pages 990993 (21 February 2008) | Download Citation



Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are a significant burden on global economies and public health1,2,3. Their emergence is thought to be driven largely by socio-economic, environmental and ecological factors1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, but no comparative study has explicitly analysed these linkages to understand global temporal and spatial patterns of EIDs. Here we analyse a database of 335 EID ‘events’ (origins of EIDs) between 1940 and 2004, and demonstrate non-random global patterns. EID events have risen significantly over time after controlling for reporting bias, with their peak incidence (in the 1980s) concomitant with the HIV pandemic. EID events are dominated by zoonoses (60.3% of EIDs): the majority of these (71.8%) originate in wildlife (for example, severe acute respiratory virus, Ebola virus), and are increasing significantly over time. We find that 54.3% of EID events are caused by bacteria or rickettsia, reflecting a large number of drug-resistant microbes in our database. Our results confirm that EID origins are significantly correlated with socio-economic, environmental and ecological factors, and provide a basis for identifying regions where new EIDs are most likely to originate (emerging disease ‘hotspots’). They also reveal a substantial risk of wildlife zoonotic and vector-borne EIDs originating at lower latitudes where reporting effort is low. We conclude that global resources to counter disease emergence are poorly allocated, with the majority of the scientific and surveillance effort focused on countries from where the next important EID is least likely to originate.

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We thank the following for discussion, assistance and comments: K. A. Alexander, T. Blackburn, S. Cleaveland, I. R. Cooke, A. A. Cunningham, J. Davies, A. P. Dobson, P. J. Hudson, A. M. Kilpatrick, J. R. C. Pulliam, J. M. Rowcliffe, W. Sechrest, L. Seirup and M. E. J. Woolhouse, and in particular V. Mara and N. J. B. Isaac for analytical support. This project was supported by NSF (Human and Social Dynamics; Ecology), NIH/NSF (Ecology of Infectious Diseases), NIH (John E. Fogarty International Center), Eppley Foundation, The New York Community Trust, V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation and a Columbia University Earth Institute fellowship (K.E.J.).

Author Contributions P.D. conceived and directed the study and co-wrote the paper with K.E.J.; K.E.J. coordinated and conducted the analyses with M.A.L., A.S., N.G.P. and D.B.; N.G.P. compiled the EID event database; and J.L.G provided the mammal distribution data. All authors were involved in the design of the study, the interpretation of the results and commented on the manuscript.

Author information

Author notes

    • Adam Storeygard
    •  & Deborah Balk

    Present addresses: Department of Economics, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island 02912, USA (A.S.); School of Public Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York, 1 Bernard Baruch Way, Box D-0901, New York, New York 10010, USA (D.B.).


  1. Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, Regents Park, London NW1 4RY, UK

    • Kate E. Jones
  2. Consortium for Conservation Medicine, Wildlife Trust, 460 West 34th Street, 17th Floor, New York, New York 10001, USA

    • Nikkita G. Patel
    •  & Peter Daszak
  3. Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Earth Institute, Columbia University, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, New York 10964, USA

    • Marc A. Levy
    • , Adam Storeygard
    •  & Deborah Balk
  4. Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602, USA

    • John L. Gittleman


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peter Daszak.

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  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    The file contains the following: Supplementary Data; Supplementary Figures S1-S3; and Supplementary Tables S1-S3. Supplementary Data contains the EID Event Database (Table S1) along with the source details and a comparison to other variable definitions (Table S2). Figure S1 shows the Latitudinal gradient in EID events. Figure S2 shows the Global richness maps of EID events from 1940-2004 split by category and Figure S3 shows the Spatial reporting bias in EID events. Table S3 gives the results of the Socio-economic, environmental and ecological correlates of EID events for 10 random spatial draws.

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