Certain diseases are making a comeback – how can we defend against them?


  Posted by: Dental Design      6th July 2023

Despite considerable medical advancements in recent years, infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death worldwide.[1] This is partially influenced by some pathogens’ ability to evolve and outsmart any defences we create to destroy them. For instance, we currently can’t eliminate viruses such as influenza as they continually evolve through a process called antigenic shift, creating new strains that render vaccinations ineffective.[2]

However, it is not just evolving illnesses that we need to look out for. Certain diseases that were once thought almost eradicated are now making a resurgence. But why is this the case and how can we defend against them?

Changing attitudes – human culpability

In the majority of cases, diseases re-emerge in societies due to human behaviour. For instance, some diseases break out due to poor sanitation standards or a breakdown of public health measures. We also can’t discount the impact of ideologies such as the anti-vax movement, which puts people at risk of catching diseases that they otherwise would’ve been protected against.

What’s particularly concerning is that vaccine refusal is on the rise. While there are no solid UK figures of how many people are now refusing to have their children vaccinated, there is evidence to suggest that more and more parents are failing to fulfil this step before sending their children to school, for example.[3]

So, what are some of the diseases making a comeback?

Tuberculosis (TB)

Once a common scourge of the land, TB rates have fluctuated in the UK for a long time, often being more prevalent than many would expect. Indeed, in 2011 there were 8,280 recorded cases of the disease – a number which in the years following was steadily on the decline. However, in 2021, these numbers began to climb again, with concerns that they are going to continue to increase.[4]


Much like TB, recent years have seen numbers of measles cases fluctuate. The UK has reached elimination status for measles a number of times (most recently in 2017), but since then, vaccination rates have dropped and cases are once again emerging.[5]

Measles is highly contagious, and is transmitted via people breathing in respiratory droplets that are expelled when a person coughs, sneezes or speaks. These droplets can also settle on surfaces, and if touched by an uninfected person may be transmitted via this route, too.[6]

Scarlet Fever

At the end of 2022 and during January 2023, scarlet fever infections in the UK hit an alarming high.[7] During this time, over 38,400 cases were recorded across the nation – the biggest peak in the disease since similar, but smaller figures, in 2017.[8]

Much like measles, scarlet fever is a highly contagious disease. Infectious pathogens are transmitted via contact with saliva and mucus from an infected individual, meaning that this disease quickly spreads and is easily picked up via surface transmission.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

Though this is a disease seemingly more at home in a Charles Dickens novel than the modern world, cases of whooping cough are once again steadily on the rise. BUPA reports that the most recent peak in cases was in 2012, but cases are still widespread and there are still breakouts of the disease in communities despite there being a vaccine available.

Much like the other diseases mentioned in this piece, whooping cough is also transmitted via respiratory droplets, meaning that it can be transmitted via airborne transmission as well as picked up by hands off surfaces.

Hand hygiene makes a huge difference

Practising a high-standard of hand hygiene has been proven to help reduce infection by respiratory illnesses such as those listed above by as much as 25%.[9] As such, hand hygiene measures are a reliable first line of defence against the spread of these conditions in your practice.

In order to support patients and staff with their hand hygiene, it’s essential to have good-quality hand soap that can kill pathogens available in washrooms, as well as working sinks that provide warm water. It’s also a smart idea to print guidance on correct handwashing techniques and make these widely visible in work washrooms, to ensure that everyone has the information they need to clean their hands to an exceptional standard.

Research suggests that using a combination of soap and hand sanitiser is the best way forward when it comes to the preventing the spread of disease.[10]

You can supplement hand hygiene measures in your setting by installing hand sanitiser stations in any high footfall areas. UltraProtect™ Hand Sanitiser from Initial Medical is the perfect solution. Able to destroy 99.99% of pathogens, the formula is alcohol-free and kind to skin, making it safe for repeated use throughout the day. Additionally, it offers long-lasting defence against pathogens, protecting hands for 8 hours as long as the product isn’t washed away.

A strong first line of defence

While many factors affecting the re-emergence of certain diseases are out of our control, we can take steps to protect ourselves against them. Implementing high-standard hand hygiene protocols is a proven first barrier against respiratory diseases, especially when using high-quality products that offer lasting defence.

To find out more, get in touch at 0870 850 4045 or visit the website today www.initial.co.uk/medical.

Rebecca Waters, Category Manager, Initial Medical

Rebecca has worked in the Healthcare sector for the past 17years and was a Research Chemist with Bayer Cropscience prior to joining Rentokil Initial in 2003.  She keeps up to date on all developments within the clinical waste management industry and is an active member of the CIWM, SMDSA and BDIA.  

[1] Baylor College of Medicine. Introduction to Infectious Diseases. Link: https://www.bcm.edu/departments/molecular-virology-and-microbiology/emerging-infections-and-biodefense/introduction-to-infectious-diseases#:~:text=Infectious%20diseases%20are%20a%20leading,World%20Health%20Organization%20(WHO). [Last accessed February 23].

[2] CDC. How Flu Viruses Can Change: “Drift” and “Shift”. Link: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/change.htm#:~:text=When%20a%20flu%20virus%20has,and%20fighting%20against%20the%20virus. [Last accessed February 23].

[3] GOV.UK. Around 1 in 10 children starting school at risk of measles. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/around-1-in-10-children-starting-school-at-risk-of-measles [Last accessed February 23].

[4] Gov.uk. UKHSA calls for a renewed effort to tackle TB. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukhsa-calls-for-a-renewed-effort-to-tackle-tb [Last accessed February 23].

[5] Gov.uk UK measles and rubella elimination indicators and status. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/measles-and-rubella-elimination-uk/uk-measles-and-rubella-elimination [Last accessed February 23].

[6] World Health Organization. Measles. Link: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles?gclid=CjwKCAiA85efBhBbEiwAD7oLQITDZ0M2RUOweLIhU1iLod4UXB88VI_E7GJzr639wG4m7jCVb14T0xoCFV0QAvD_BwE [Last accessed February 23].

[7] Gov.uk. UKHSA update on scarlet fever and invasive group A strep. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukhsa-update-on-scarlet-fever-and-invasive-group-a-strep-1#:~:text=Thursday%2029%20December%202022,seen%20in%20a%20typical%20year. [Last accessed February 23].

[8] Gov.uk. UKHSA update on scarlet fever and invasive group A strep. Link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ukhsa-update-on-scarlet-fever-and-invasive-group-a-strep-1#:~:text=Thursday%2029%20December%202022,seen%20in%20a%20typical%20year. [Last accessed February 23].

[9] The Global Handwashing Partnership. Why Handwashing. Link: https://globalhandwashing.org/about-handwashing/why-handwashing/health/#:~:text=Handwashing%20reduces%20the%20rate%20of,rate%20by%20up%20to%2025%25. [Last accessed February 23].

[10] BMJ. Soap versus sanitiser for preventing the transmission of acute respiratory infections in the community: a systematic review with meta-analysis and dose–response analysis. Link: https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/11/8/e046175 [Last accessed February 23].

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