Infectious Diseases: The Oldest Enemy


Professor Christopher Whitty presents a series of lectures on infectious diseases, demonstrating how they have dominated medicine and mortality in the UK. The combination of travel, antimicrobial resistance to drugs and a rise in the number of elderly means that the threat is increasing again.

Some infections come in repeated epidemic waves, others are new to human populations. A known human threat such as influenza may mutate, or a new infection jumps the species barrier from animals to humans: recent examples include HIV and Ebola, and the historical example of plague. What happens depends on the route of transmission. Our methods for tacking an airborne disease like influenza are different from those for touch (Ebola), insect vector (Zika), water (cholera) or sexual transmission (HIV).

The brain is well protected against most infections, but once they get into or around the brain they can cause fatal or serious long-term consequences. Some infections are well adapted to the brain including meningococcal meningitis. Control measures including vaccination have reduced the risk of some, but not all, of these very serious infections. Professor Whitty looks at how infections get into the brain, their effect and how we can prevent and treat them.