SDSU professor discusses evolution of infectious disease

“It remains the leading cause of death worldwide and there are no geographical boundaries,” said Dr. Stanley Maloy during Saddleback College’s most recent Science Lecture Series. “Infectious diseases do not obey our borders, and even if we build a big wall, they still wouldn’t obey.”

Former Saddleback College adjunct chemistry instructor Stanley Maloy returned to the campus Friday, March 4, to discuss the evolution of microbial diseases, where they come from and why they are so important. Maloy is currently dean of the College of Sciences at San Diego State University and founder of Center for Microbial Sciences.

“The death rate from infectious disease doubled in the last two decades,” Maloy said. “We found there are new diseases we had never seen before. Antibiotic resistance began occurring at a very high level.”

Stanley Maloy shares a graph showing a decrease in deaths from infectious disease in the U.S. (Kurtis Rattay/Lariat)

Stanley Maloy shares a graph showing a decrease in deaths from infectious disease in the U.S. (Kurtis Rattay/Lariat)

Deaths in the United States decreased significantly between 1900 and 1960 due to antibiotics, vaccines and sanitation, said Maloy. As a result, government decreased funding of infectious disease research, believing the problem was “fixed.”

But they were “very wrong,” he said.

Maloy shared a timeline of infectious diseases that had newly emerged, changed or adapted in some way. The timeline listed a different disease each year and spanned several decades.

Scientists first identified Nipah virus after the 1998 outbreak that infected South-East Asia, causing acute respiratory syndrome and swelling of the brain, according to World Health Organization.

An Ebola virus outbreak devastated entire countries in West Africa before reaching parts of Europe and the United States in 2014, according to Center for Disease Control.

For 2015 and 2016, Maloy would include Zika virus and dengue fever, he said. Dengue, or “breakbone fever,” can cause high fever, difficulty breathing, bleeding and a variety of other serious symptoms. Dengue and Zika virus are carried by the same species of mosquito.

The mass production and distribution of food have caused “big outbreaks of disease instead of local pockets.” Additionally, “human disruption of the environment” is the common denominator behind the constant emerging outbreaks of infectious disease, he said.

“We build houses in areas that were previously natural environments, and that allowed Lyme disease and SARS,” Maloy said. “Climate change is allowing the spread of Chagas disease, which was once limited to Brazil. It’s now moving into the southern United States through Mexico.”

The current paradigm for dealing with human disease is to observe, investigate and find treatment. But because human changing of the environment may allow the disease to grow “more effectively,” a different paradigm of treatment may be needed.

Instead of starting surveillance of human infectious disease, One Health paradigm begins by surveying environments and animals, looking for possible pathogens. Data is then collected and used to help prevent disease outbreaks.

“If we want health of humans we need to worry about the health of the environment, of animals and of humans,” Maloy said.

One Health is a collaboration of animal medicine, human medicine and environmental sciences, all of which generally have different funding and are researched in different facilities. One Health initiative opens lines of communications between all areas of healthcare.

Very few seats were available in the SM 313 lecture hall, which can accommodate more than 200 occupants. The Science Lecture Series is free of charge and open to the public, however audience participation suggested a majority of chemistry, biology and math students.

“It had a lot of relevance to what we just learned,” said Jai Kahlon, biology major. “He was talking about how genes could be spread and how it effects the environment.”

The program also included a trivia game where students identified molecules and answered chemistry and math problems. Students who answered correctly received copies of books written by Maloy.

“We are now in our seventh series, so its been going on for about six years,” said Sara Sperazza, who has been organizing the program since it began in the 2009-2010 academic year.

The final lecture in the series, titled “Unlocking Jupiter’s Secrets- The Juno Project,” will feature Dr. Steven Levin of NASA, who will discuss the Juno spacecraft on April 1. Juno is destined to orbit the planet and will help determine size, temperature, and atmospheric composition.