There are certain diseases that strike fear into the hearts of most people when they have reason to believe that they may be suffering from one of them. Cancer is probably the big one for most people, but did you know that there are diseases out there that you probably thought were extinct but could still kill you? Some of them can kill within days or even hours, making them even more frightening than cancer. Worse yet, some of these straight-out-of-a-horror-movie diseases are extremely contagious!
While some of these diseases only exist in the annals of history, some well-known ancient diseases are beginning to make a comeback thanks to their ability to adapt to the medications we have used to combat them for decades. Welcome to the new world of antibiotic resistance, and that’s only part of the problem. Sometimes outbreaks of these diseases occur that even medical experts cannot explain. The following 10 diseases may have been forgotten by most people but could still strike any of us at some point in the future.
1. The plague
One of the absolute worst epidemics in human history, The plague wiped out an estimated 75 to 200 million human lives in the 14th century. The plague was spread through the air and by direct contact, and frighteningly, it is still out there. Hundreds of people around the world are still infected with it every year. The plague is also known as the “black death,” underscoring how adept it is at taking lives.
Fortunately, anthrax isn’t contagious and that’s an extraordinarily good thing since this deadly bacterial infection is frightening even when you know that it is relatively rare. It is sometimes passed from animals to humans and can also linger in the soil where it can be inhaled when an infected area is disturbed.
Cholera is a particularly nasty infection and not only because it is often contracted by contact with unsanitary environments such as drinking water that is contaminated by sewage. Cholera can kill within hours if it is not treated properly. The symptoms include severe diarrhea which can cause dangerous, life-threatening dehydration and can also lead to other fatal complications.
This disease is one that causes symptoms that usually affect the nose and throat and is caused by a bacterial infection. The most prominent symptoms are a cough, chills, fever and swollen glands in and around the neck. Diphtheria needs to be treated before it causes serious damage to important organs like the kidneys. It can also affect the heart and central nervous system and up to 3 percent of cases are fatal.
Here’s one the majority of us probably devote little thought to these days since it’s been all but eradicated. Polio, however, is still out there and struck 37 people worldwide during 2016. Polio is famous for the muscle paralysis it can cause and it can easily confine victims to wheelchairs or a life of using crutches to get around. In some cases, the disease affects the muscles responsible for breathing and that can end in death. Polio has always been a disease that is most dangerous for children.
Often referred to simply as “TB,” tuberculosis is a word we have all heard at one time or another and probably thought it was another one of those historic diseases that we no longer have to worry about. This age-old disease is still very much alive, however, and it still affects people worldwide, including “developed” countries like the United States and those in Europe. One of the most frightening things about tuberculosis is that some strains of the disease are becoming resistant to the antibiotic treatments that have been used for decades to control it. Tuberculosis is a nasty bacterial infection that affects the lungs.
7. Scarlet fever
One thing that’s especially scary about scarlet fever is that it sometimes develops as the result of a common infection we know as strep throat. Fortunately, it’s not a particularly common development but when it does happen it is vital to seek treatment immediately before it can cause serious damage to the heart, central nervous system, kidneys, and lungs. As the name suggests, scarlet fever is characterized by a red rash that often appears on the face and neck and can spread to the entire body.
Despite what may be a playful-sounding name that could be used as a name for an animated movie character, mumps is a serious disease that can lead to inflammation of the brain that could be fatal. Mumps is extremely contagious and can be passed from person to person via casual contact. Swelling in the area of the cheeks and jaw are telltale signs of this viral infection for which antibiotics are of no use.
We came close with measles, thanks to vaccines that almost eradicated it in the past but it persists to this day. It’s caused by a virus that leads to symptoms such as a cough, fever, pink eye, skin rash, and white spots on the inner parts of the mouth. In 2015 there were more than 600 cases of measles in the United States.
10. Flu pandemic
We might not think of the flu as something that can kill us, but it’s a real possibility. What’s so concerning about the flu is that it’s unpredictable, and the virus that causes it is always adapting and evolving, making it possible that a strain will emerge that is both particularly dangerous and hard to control. The flu pandemic that occurred in 1918 infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide and killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people. The terrifying reality is that a pandemic like that could happen again someday.