Infectious disease epidemiology and demographics

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]; Associate Editor-In-Chief: Cafer Zorkun, M.D., Ph.D. [3]


Epidemiology is an important tool used to study disease in a population. For infectious diseases it helps to determine if a disease outbreak is sporadic (occasional occurrence), endemic (regular cases often occurring in a region), epidemic (an unusually high number of cases in a region), or pandemic (a global epidemic).

Epidemiology and Demographics

Mortality from Infectious Diseases

The World Health Organization collects information on global deaths by International Classification of Disease (ICD) code categories. The following table lists the top infectious disease killers which caused more than 100,000 deaths in 2002 (estimated). 1993 data is included for comparison.

Worldwide mortality due to infectious diseases[1]
Rank Cause of death Deaths 2002 Percentage of
all deaths
Deaths 1993 1993 Rank
N/A All infectious diseases 14.7 million 25.9% 16.4 million 32.2%
1 Lower respiratory infections[2] 3.9 million 6.9% 4.1 million 1
2 HIV/AIDS 2.8 million 4.9% 0.7 million 7
3 Diarrheal diseases[3] 1.8 million 3.2% 3.0 million 2
4 Tuberculosis (TB) 1.6 million 2.7% 2.7 million 3
5 Malaria 1.3 million 2.2% 2.0 million 4
6 Measles 0.6 million 1.1% 1.1 million 5
7 Pertussis 0.29 million 0.5% 0.36 million 7
8 Tetanus 0.21 million 0.4% 0.15 million 12
9 Meningitis 0.17 million 0.3% 0.25 million 8
10 Syphilis 0.16 million 0.3% 0.19 million 11
11 Hepatitis B 0.10 million 0.2% 0.93 million 6
12-17 Tropical diseases (6)[4] 0.13 million 0.2% 0.53 million 9, 10, 16-18
Note: Other causes of death include maternal and perinatal conditions (5.2%), nutritional deficiencies (0.9%),
noncommunicable conditions (58.8%), and injuries (9.1%).

The top three single agent/disease killers are HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. While the number of deaths due to nearly every disease have decreased, deaths due to HIV/AIDS have increased fourfold. Childhood diseases include pertussis, poliomyelitis, diphtheria, measles and tetanus. Children also make up a large percentage of lower respiratory and diarrheal deaths.


  1. The World Health Report - Annex Table 2 (pdf) and 1995 Table 5 (pdf-large!)
  2. Lower respiratory infections include various pneumonias, influenzas andbronchitis.
  3. Diarrheal diseases are caused by many different organisms, including cholera, botulism, and E. coli to name a few. See also: Intestinal infectious diseases
  4. Tropical diseases include Chagas disease, dengue fever, lymphatic filariasis, leishmaniasis,onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and trypanosomiasis.