5 emerging infectious diseases to keep an eye on in 2017

As climate change, population growth and ecological degradation continue, the process of zoonosis — the transfer of disease from animals to humans — may become more common. Pepper in global travel and population migrations and it's a possible recipe for new diseases to rise and spread.

Derek Gatherer, PhD, a lecturer in the department of biomedical and life sciences at the University of Lancaster in the U.K., recently named in The Conversation five infectious diseases primed for possible ascendency in 2017.

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Here are the five.

1. Leishmaniasis: This parasitic infection is also known by the moniker "Aleppo boil" has recently become an issue among Syrian refugees in Europe, which has garnered media attention. The infection causes skin ulcerations and can sometimes spread to internal organs, which can result in death. The disease is spread by the bloodsucking sand fly, which are native to warmer climates.

2. Rift Valley Fever: This infection spread by mosquitoes is characterized by fever and chills and cannot be spread from person to person. Thus far, transmission to humans is limited to Africa, but more than 30 species of mosquito can spread the illness, 19 of which are native to North America. Humans appear to become infected by mosquitoes after the insects have fed on previously infected livestock. The death rate is usually around 1 percent, but can rise to 50 percent if internal bleeding occurs, according to Dr. Gatherer.

3. Oropouche: This virus is spread by Culex mosquitoes, which have a much wider population distribution than the Aedes mosquitoes that carry Zika. While typically confined to the Amazon, Oropouche has recently extended its reach into neighboring parts of South America. Oropouche infections are marked by a loss of appetite, fever, headaches and vomiting. Occasionally, the virus incites meningitis, which is the most concerning complication of the infection.

4. Mayaro: This virus clinically mirrors chikungunya — its distant relative — and incites fever, chills, rash and joint pain. Mayaro, like chikungunya and Zika, is spread by Aedes mosquitoes. Previously, the virus was limited to the forests of the Amazon, but recently infections have been detected in urban environments in Haiti. This trajectory resembles that of chikungunya.

5. Elizabethkingia: Unlike the vector-borne diseases previously featured on the list, this bacteria can be found throughout the world. While its range won't be expanding, its potential rise is linked to the evolution of antibiotic resistance.

"Unlike the others, Elizabethkingia isn't in the 'possibly coming soon' category but is already here. Its variety of presentations — from pneumonia to meningitis to sepsis — together with recent increases in virulence and antibiotic resistance, make it a potentially formidable adversary," wrote Dr. Gatherer.

More articles on infection control: 
Arkansas mumps outbreak now over 2,400 
CDC: Flu widespread in 8 states 
Plague cases in US decline in 2016

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