In the last 35 years, deaths from infectious disease in the United States decreased by nearly 19 percent, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). This is the first study to quantify the change at the county level, and it shows a downward trend in a variety of disease areas, including lower respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, meningitis, hepatitis and tuberculosis.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Washington, examined death records and population counts from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, respectively. The researchers found:
- Between the years 1980 and 2014, deaths from infectious disease dropped from 41.95 per 100,000 persons to 34.10, a reduction of 18.7 percent.
- The drop was most significant in men, declining from 56.37 to 39.22 deaths per 100,000 persons.
- Women saw a decrease as well, going from 33.11 to 29.97 deaths per 100,000 persons.
In addition to segmenting the results by gender, the researchers also segmented by types of disease.
Deaths from HIV/AIDS, which was relatively unknown in 1980, increased dramatically until 1994, when biopharmaceutical researchers discovered protease inhibitors. These medicines halted the growth of the disease by preventing infected cells from duplicating and spreading the HIV virus, revolutionizing the fight against AIDS. After that, deaths per 100,000 persons decreased dramatically, from 15.87 in 1994 to 2.40 in 2014 – an 85 percent drop. Today, a 20- year-old with HIV could now live to age 78 – the same life expectancy for the general U.S. population.
The mortality rate associated with meningitis decreased by 69.55 percent from 1980 to 2014, and the mortality rate associated with tuberculosis decreased by a remarkable 83.31 percent during the same time period. Lower respiratory infection-related deaths also decreased during this time by slightly more than 25 percent.
Mortality rates from hepatitis have also decreased since 1980. In fact, of all infectious disease categories examined, only diarrheal diseases did not experience a downward trend.
The study cited “better health care and preventive measures such as vaccines” as key factors in the declines. In the U.S., 16 diseases are now preventable as a result of childhood vaccines, which have resulted in an estimated $1.4 trillion saved in societal costs.
Although we’ve made tremendous progress, America’s biopharmaceutical companies continue to pursue new treatments: In 2017, there were 264 vaccines in development, including 137 for infectious diseases, and 52 medicines in development for HIV/AIDS. Other areas experiencing progress include heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and mental illnesses.
The JAMA report reminds us how far we have come in recent years in the fight against infectious disease, and we look forward to continued advances against these diseases in this new era of medicine.