Infectious diseases on the rise, WHO warns

"The future looks very bright for microbes, not so good for humanity," Dr Margaret Chan told a luncheon in her hometown Hong Kong, the site of a major outbreak of the SARS virus in 2003 that killed almost 300 people in the city.

Higher population density, industrialisation of food production and the increase in international travel have provided many opportunities for communicable diseases to spread, she said.

"Given this unstable and unpredictable situation, only one generalisation is possible – there will definitely be more new diseases capable of causing outbreaks in humans," Dr Chan said at the event organised by the Asia Society.

But the director general of the WHO said not all new diseases will be as "devastating" as the outbreak of SARS that killed more than 800 people worldwide or the H1N1 epidemic that caused at least 17,000 deaths.

Dr Chan said one reason infectious diseases have been on the rise in the region and