Beth Bell, MD, MPH, serves as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Photo by The Nation's Health.

Beth Bell, MD, MPH, serves as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Photo by The Nation’s Health.

Beth Bell, MD, MPH, serves as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. As its director, Bell is a leading expert in examining epidemics around the world and the public health response to them. She spoke with The Nation’s Health and gave a review of the year in diseases for 2015, as well as some insight on what the future might hold in the field.

Q: NCEZID covers emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases. What do we mean when we talk about emerging diseases?

A: Microbes are very smart entities. They’ve been around for thousands and thousands of years, and one of the fundamental things about microbes is that they’re constantly changing. Because microbes are constantly changing, it means that the impact on people and their capacity to infect people is also always changing.

When we talk about emerging diseases, we’re talking about new diseases that might have already existed, for example, in animals, or in bats, and suddenly emerge as a cause of disease in people. An example of that recently is MERS, the Middle East respiratory syndrome.

Now, you also want to think about emerging diseases as diseases where suddenly the characteristics of the disease might change, or the geographic distribution of a disease might change. So a disease might emerge in one area where we had never seen it before.

Read this Q&A in full at The Nation’s Health.