The former US Surgeon General William H. Stewart is often quoted as having said, in the 1960s, ‘It is time to close the book on infectious diseases and declare the war against pestilence won.’ Although it seems he was misquoted and never actually said this, it is true that the 1960s was a period of optimism for the health sector, when the power of sanitation, antibiotics, vaccination and vector control seemed to herald an end to infectious diseases [1, 2]. This optimism, however, was dashed when HIV emerged and the term ‘emerging infectious disease’ (EID) rose in popularity throughout the 1980s. The use of the term reached a high in 1992 following the publication of the US Institute of Medicine report, ‘Emerging Infections: Microbial Threats to Health in the United States’. The journal Emerging Infectious Diseases was subsequently launched in 1995 and the National Library of Medicine added the medical sub-heading ‘Communicable Diseases, Emerging’ to PubMed in 2001.