as drugs that treat chronic conditions and lifestyle-related ailments, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Antibiotic research and development is also expensive, risky, and time consuming. Return on that investment can be unpredictable, considering that resistance to antibiotics develops over time, eventually making them less effective.

New antiviral drugs are also in short supply. These medicines have been much more difficult to develop than antibacterial drugs because antivirals can damage host cells where the viruses reside. Today, there are more antiviral drugs for HIV than for any other viral disease, transforming an infection that was once considered a death sentence into a manageable chronic condition. But novel drugs are needed to combat other epidemic viral infections, such as influenza and hepatitis B and C.

Several programs have been developed to stimulate research and development of new vaccines and medicines. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently formed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, which provides an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of the vaccines, drugs, therapies, and diagnostic tools necessary for public health medical emergencies. The Cures Acceleration Network provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, is designed to move research discoveries through to safe and effective therapies by awarding grants through the National Institutes of Health to biotech companies, universities, and patient advocacy groups. And nonprofit organizations dedicated to accelerating the discovery and clinical development of new therapies to treat infectious diseases are bringing together philanthropists, medical research foundations, industry leaders, and other key stakeholders to forge effective collaborations.

Microbe Awareness

Daily habits provide some of the strongest defenses against infectious diseases. Among the sensible actions you can take:

  • Keep immunizations up to date.

  • Wash your hands often. Washing with regular soap and rinsing with running water, followed by thorough drying, is considered the most important way to prevent disease transmission. Routine consumer use of residue-producing antibacterial products, such as those containing the chemical triclosan, have not been proven to confer health benefits and may actually contribute to antibiotic resistance.

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