In a 2007 report, the World Health Organization warned about the rapid rate of emergence of infectious diseases. In fact, 40 new infectious diseases have been discovered since 1970, which include avian flu and swine flu, Ebola, SARS, MERS, and most recently, Zika.
Pathogens are often difficult enemies to conquer, as we can’t punch, kick, slash, or shoot our way through battles with them. Science has made leaps and bounds in controlling the spread of diseases, but there is more work to be done, especially with the potential of mutation, emergence, or re-emergence of infectious agents, and the possibility of outbreaks.
Microscopy can be a valuable technique in fighting epidemics. Since we are fighting organisms that can’t be seen by the naked eye, having tools that allow us to see and study the “enemy” can provide us with the necessary information to contain these outbreaks.
Discovery and Diagnosis
The most important thing about winning a battle is knowing who or what the enemy is. In terms of epidemics, discovering the causative agent is critical not only for containment but also for finding a cure. Through the use of microscopy, specimens can be studied thoroughly in order to correctly identify the microorganism that caused the disease.
Microscopes with precision z-focus capabilities can make this step of the process easier and even more accurate. They make identification of the infectious agent and the observation of specimens more efficient because of their precision focusing capabilities, especially when it comes to examining tissue samples or cultured cells, which are multi-planar and may have several points of focus.
Studying Viral or Bacterial Behavior
Microscopy is also extremely valuable in studying bacterial and viral behavior, including how they infect their host and what it does to different cells of the body. Certain bacteria or viruses only thrive in a specific kind of tissue or type of environment, for example, which may also lead to clues on how to treat it. If the infectious agent does move from tissue to tissue, microscopy can help determine how it does this and help stop its spread to the entire body.
Other information that can be discovered with the help of microscopy include incubation periods, replication conditions, and ways of transmission. These details can help with quarantine procedures and first-aid treatments, as well as information dissemination campaigns.
By far, the most important role of microscopy in battling epidemics is in the development of vaccines and medicines. Using a powerful microscope, pathologists and other medical science professionals can study how a virus or bacteria responds to certain substances and conditions. By observing these reactions, scientists can then develop drugs that can control or eradicate these microorganisms from the body.
Viral or bacterial drug resistance can also be studied more carefully through microscopy techniques. Some viruses and bacteria can develop drug resistance overtime (like MDR tuberculosis) due to mutation, over-prescription, or improper use of medicines, among other factors. Information derived from these observations can help in the development of new vaccines, antiviral drugs, and antibiotics that can potentially address new strains of infectious agents.
Epidemics continue to emerge, evolve, and re-emerge over the years. The possibility of biochemical terrorism also looms in the horizon. These, among other scientific and economic factors involved, highlight the challenges in infectious disease research. But with the eradication of smallpox, the development of vaccines and other drugs, and continuous improvement in scientific techniques and equipment, there is hope that infectious diseases can be completely eliminated.