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January 1987

Old Problems, New and Persistent Challenges: Presidential Address

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Surgery, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Arch Surg. 1987;122(1):15-20. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1987.01400130021002

From many points of view, infection control has been the most important single advance in the development of human destiny. Before the 17th century, frequent epidemics of diseases now presumed to be smallpox, plague, diphtheria, measles, cholera, and infectious diarrheal diseases, among others, swept through communities, killing as much as 90% of the population within a region. Until recently, as reflected by an increase in the average life span, infection was clearly the most common cause of death. With better nutrition and improved hygiene, world population began to increase enormously as more people lived long enough to propagate (Fig 1). The explosion in scientific methods within the last 150 years, particularly related to control of infection, has resulted in a fivefold increase in the number of human beings populating the earth during that period. Smallpox, one of the most common causes of death in the world just a few hundred