Bacterial diseases continue to present a major threat to human health. Tuberculosis, for instance, ranks among the world's leading causes of death. Streptococcus (Group B Streptococcus), another bacterium, continues to be a frequent cause of life-threatening infection during the first two months of life. Foodborne and waterborne bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter are responsible for a recent troubling increase in diarrheal disease. Meanwhile, during the last decade, scientists discovered many new organisms and new strains of many familiar bacteria, such as Escherichia coli. Such emerging bacterial diseases present a clear challenge to biomedical researchers.
The complexity of this challenge is becoming even clearer as researchers begin to appreciate the many unsuspected mechanisms that bacteria have for causing trouble to human beings. For example, gene transfer among different strains of bacteria, and even between different species of bacteria, is now understood to be a common means whereby these organisms acquire resistance to antibiotics. Basic research has also discovered that some bacteria may play a major role in certain chronic diseases not formerly associated with bacterial infection. The bacterium Helicobacter pylori, for example, has been found to cause ulcers and may contribute to stomach cancer; Guillain Barré syndrome has been associated with prior diarrheal disease caused by Campylobacter jejuni.
Last Updated February 21, 2012
Last Reviewed April 04, 2011