Infectious diseases are among the top five leading causes of death worldwide. Scientists have long known that the environment plays a defining role in the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. However, the relationships among human exposures to environmental pollution; rapid environmental change; and the emergence, spread, and persistence of infectious diseases are not yet well understood. Emerging findings suggest that exposure to environmental pollutants such as airborne particulate matter, industrial chemicals, and heavy metals may alter the immune system, increasing human susceptibility to infection. New research findings show that the microbiome of humans and ecosystems also play important roles in infection. Nonetheless, the fields of environmental health and infectious diseases largely operate distinctly from one another even though research on the interplay between these fields could inform new health practices, public health research, and public health policy.
On January 15–16, 2019, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine held a 2-day workshop to explore emerging evidence on the interactions among environmental stressors, infectious diseases, and human health. The workshop brought together a multidisciplinary group, including experts in infectious disease, global public health, toxicology, epidemiology, and science policy, to discuss the emerging science and its implications for decisions about research and public policy. This publication summarizes the presentations and discussions from the workshop.
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