Global rise in human infectious disease outbreaks

J R Soc Interface. 2014 Dec 6;11(101):20140950. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0950.


To characterize the change in frequency of infectious disease outbreaks over time worldwide, we encoded and analysed a novel 33-year dataset (1980-2013) of 12,102 outbreaks of 215 human infectious diseases, comprising more than 44 million cases occuring in 219 nations. We merged these records with ecological characteristics of the causal pathogens to examine global temporal trends in the total number of outbreaks, disease richness (number of unique diseases), disease diversity (richness and outbreak evenness) and per capita cases. Bacteria, viruses, zoonotic diseases (originating in animals) and those caused by pathogens transmitted by vector hosts were responsible for the majority of outbreaks in our dataset. After controlling for disease surveillance, communications, geography and host availability, we find the total number and diversity of outbreaks, and richness of causal diseases increased significantly since 1980 (p < 0.0001). When we incorporate Internet usage into the model to control for biased reporting of outbreaks (starting 1990), the overall number of outbreaks and disease richness still increase significantly with time (p < 0.0001), but per capita cases decrease significantly ( p = 0.005). Temporal trends in outbreaks differ based on the causal pathogen's taxonomy, host requirements and transmission mode. We discuss our preliminary findings in the context of global disease emergence and surveillance.

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission*
  • Databases, Factual*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Retrospective Studies