Research to understand and treat some of the world's most problematic diseases.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by episodes of airway narrowing and obstruction, causing wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
More than 80 diseases occur as a result of the immune system attacking the body’s own organs, tissues, and cells. Some of the more common autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease. Treatments are available for many autoimmune diseases, but cures have yet to be discovered.
Autoimmune lymphoproliferative syndrome (ALPS) is a rare genetic disorder of the immune system first described by NIH scientists in the mid-1990s that affects both children and adults. In ALPS, unusually high numbers of white blood cells called lymphocytes accumulate in the lymph nodes, liver, and spleen and can lead to enlargement of these organs.
Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. An estimated 3-5 million cases and over 100,000 deaths occur each year around the world. The infection is often mild or without symptoms, but can sometimes be severe. Without treatment, death can occur within hours.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold. However, three coronaviruses have caused more serious and fatal disease in people: SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV), MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19).
Dengue fever is an infectious disease carried by mosquitoes and caused by any of four related dengue viruses. This disease used to be called "break-bone" fever because it sometimes causes severe joint and muscle pain that feels like bones are breaking. Health experts have known about dengue fever for more than 200 years.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria live in the intestines of people and animals, and are key to a healthy intestinal tract. Most E. coli strains are harmless, but some can cause diarrhea through contact with contaminated food or water while other strains can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia.
Ebola is a serious and often fatal illness caused by a virus. Several viruses can cause Ebola disease in humans, including Ebola virus and Sudan virus. Symptoms of Ebola include fever, headache, muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, and severe bleeding and bruising.
Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a non-contagious inflammatory skin condition. It is a chronic disease characterized by dry, itchy skin that can weep clear fluid when scratched. People with eczema also may be particularly susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal skin infections.
NIAID is the lead Institute at the National Institutes of Health conducting research on food allergy, a condition that affects approximately 5 percent of children and 4 percent of adults in the United States. In a person with food allergy, the immune system reacts abnormally to a component of a food—sometimes producing a life-threatening response.
Fungi include a wide range of organisms, such as mushrooms, molds, and yeast, that are common outdoors in water, soil and air; indoors on surfaces; and on our skin and inside our bodies. Mold can worsen breathing problems in people with allergies or asthma, while various types of fungus can infect nails and cause skin rashes.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that can infect both men and women. Caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, gonorrhea can cause infections in the genitals, rectum and throat. Although treatable, drug-resistant forms of gonorrhea are increasing.
Group A streptococcal (GAS) infections can range from a mild skin infection or a sore throat to severe, life-threatening conditions. Most people are familiar with strep throat, which along with minor skin infections, is the most common form of the disease.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis, but the condition can also be caused by other infections, heavy alcohol use, toxins, certain medications, and autoimmune disease. There are five main virus types that cause hepatitis---type A, B, C, D, and E.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and can be transmitted during sexual intercourse; by sharing syringes; or perinatally during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Since the first AIDS cases were reported in 1981, HIV/AIDS has been one of humanity’s deadliest and most persistent epidemics. Although extraordinary progress has been made in the fight against new HIV cases and AIDS deaths, the HIV pandemic continues.
Seasonal influenza, or flu, is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by any of several human influenza viruses that circulate globally and cause annual outbreaks of varying severity. Influenza viruses infect the nose, throat, and lungs and produce symptoms that include sudden fever, extreme fatigue, coughing, chills, and muscle aches. Serious complications include pneumonia. Each year, flu causes millions of illnesses worldwide and kills many thousands. It is especially dangerous for people who are very young or old or who have other conditions such as heart disease or asthma.
Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease transmitted by the bites of infected sand flies. It is found in nearly 88 countries, from rain forests in Central and South America to deserts in the Middle East and west Asia. Some cases of the disease have also appeared in Mexico and Texas. The disease takes several different forms, including the most common cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes skin lesions, and the more severe visceral leishmaniasis (also known as kala azar), which affects internal organs such as the spleen, liver, and bone marrow.
Leprosy (Hansen's Disease) is a chronic infectious disease that primarily affects the peripheral nerves, skin, upper respiratory tract, eyes, and nasal mucosa (lining of the nose). The disease is caused by a bacillus (rod-shaped) bacterium known as Mycobacterium leprae.
Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged deer tick. It is the most common tickborne infectious disease in the United States.
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes, which spread infectious Plasmodium parasites into a host. The WHO estimates that in 2020 about 240 million people had malaria and about 627,000 of them died. A vaccine to prevent malaria is available; however, its variable efficacy underscores the need for new interventions.
The monkeypox virus is part of the Orthopoxvirus genus, which also includes variola virus (the cause of smallpox), vaccinia virus, and cowpox virus. Although monkeypox is similar to smallpox, it is much less deadly. Initial symptoms of monkeypox infection include: fever, headache and body aches, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes, followed by a rash of lesions on the skin. Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox occurs through direct contact with body fluids, lesions, prolonged face-to-face contact, and indirect contact with contaminated clothing or bedding. Animal-to-human transmission can occur through a bite or scratch, preparation of wild game, or direct or indirect contact with body fluids or lesions.
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe. After fits of many coughs, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths, which result in a “whooping” sound.
Plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is a disease that affects humans and other mammals. People typically get infected after being bitten by a rodent flea that is carrying the bacterium or by handling a plague-infected animal. Antibiotics effectively treat plague. Without prompt treatment, plague can cause serious illness or death.
Primary immune deficiency diseases (PIDDs) are rare, genetic disorders that impair the immune system. Without a functional immune response, people with PIDDs may be subject to chronic, debilitating infections which can increase the risk of developing cancer. Some PIDDs can be fatal.
Prion diseases are transmissible, untreatable, and fatal brain diseases of mammals. Their cause is highly unusual, and prion disease symptoms reflect the brain being destroyed. NIAID is exploring similarities between prion diseases and other protein misfolding diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.