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Key Research Areas

Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases

Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs) are just the most vivid evidence that all infectious diseases are constantly evolving in the interplay between pathogens, their hosts and other environmental factors influencing both of these. Defined as "infections that have newly appeared in a population or have existed previously but are rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range" there is no shortage in recent history for examples of truly newly emerging diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, variant Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease (vCJD - the human version of "mad cow disease") and SARS as well as of re-emerging diseases such as chikungunya, and influenza.

Research on Emerging Infectious Diseases has been included in the Commission Framework Programmes for Research (FP) since their very inception: HIV projects have been funded as early as 1985 in the first FP and the emergence of vCJD in the mid 1990s triggered a substantial research effort on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) starting from FP4 until today in both the food safety as well as the human health programmes. Research in this area continues under Horizon 2020

However, calls for proposals were frequently issued ad hoc in response to a new threat and were spread over a number of different areas and activities in the framework programmes. Concurrently with the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza and the increasing awareness of the threat of a new human influenza pandemic, the legal basis for the FP7 HEALTH theme introduces for the first time a specific area dedicated to "Potentially new and re-emerging epidemics", specifying that its "focus will be on confronting emerging pathogens with pandemic potential including zoonoses (e.g. SARS and highly pathogenic influenza)". This should both provide a constant funding stream for building research capacity that prepares for potential emergencies and works on preventing them while also be flexible enough to cover newly emerging topics in this - by definition - rapidly moving field.

Influenza - into which subsequent FPs have invested more than 90 million through more than 40 projects since 2001 - has a special importance because of the potential magnitude and likelihood of a new pandemic. However, other specific diseases (such as vCJD/BSE, SARS or dengue) as well as groups of illnesses (such as vector-borne diseases in Europe), and generic aspects of preparedness (such as screening of blood products), have also been considered and will increasingly complement the influenza project portfolio. Many EIDs are of animal origin (called "Zoonoses"), which highlights the importance of a close interdisciplinary collaboration between animal and human health research.

While we fully recognise that borders and definitions are fluent in a globalised world, the area of "Emerging Epidemics" will predominantly cover new and re-emerging infectious diseases that pose a potential threat to European public health. This largely co-incides with diseases caused by viral infections. Diseases that are currently (almost) exclusively relevant for developing countries and are mostly caused by protozoan, helminthic or bacterial infections are covered by the thematic area of Neglected Infectious Diseases. Call topics will always be developed in close collaboration between these two areas (as well as with other areas, such as the area of animal health in the "Food, Agriculture and Fisheries" theme) in order to avoid overlap and promote synergies, in particular with a view to participation of researchers from affected areas outside Europe.