Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
The human body is heavily fortified against attack by disease-causing agents. From nasal hairs to stomach acid, to the 20 square feet or so of skin that covers us, human bodies are designed to keep out microbes that may make us ill. The system is not completely impervious, however, and at times we all succumb to one or other of the huge variety of infectious pathogens, such as:
- Bacterial Infections: Despite that fact that humans have co-evolved with many harmless bacteria, some are decidedly more sinister, including Neisseria meningitides, Salmonella, some strains of E. Coli, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
- Fungal Infections: Fungal infections are a more recent threat to human health and a distinct danger to patients with a compromised immune system.
- Parasitic Infections: There are no vaccines to control or prevent the spread of parasitic diseases, and many of the treatments available are ineffective or toxic. Parasitic infections are still the leading cause of death and disease in the tropical and subtropical world.
- Viral Infections: Viruses can only replicate inside the host’s cells, and many have evolved to evade the defenses of the immune system, making them difficult to treat. Due to their extremely contagious nature, viruses spread through populations quickly, causing epidemics and pandemics. Viral infections also cause several forms of cancer; for example, certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) lead to cervical cancer.
Intramural Research Program (IRP) scientists continually seek ways to better diagnose, prevent, and treat infectious diseases. Their research occurs in many IRP Institutes and Centers, including the NIH Clinical Center, which emphasizes diagnostic microbiology and clinical diagnosis. A third area of active IRP research concerns the threat of emerging infections and biodefense, a program that is jointly managed with the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Due to the trans-disciplinary nature of microbiology and infectious disease research, the NIH-FDA Immunology Interest Group brings together scientists from across the NIH and FDA and organizes activities designed to promote information exchange in the field of immunology. In addition, the NIH Center for Human Immunology and the IRP Virology Scientific Focus Area provide a wealth of resources focused on viral pathology, human immunity, immune-microbiome behavior, and infectious disease.