Disease outbreaks and epidemics are commonplace throughout the world.  Ranging from seasonal flu, to the world-wide spread of HIV Aids, the effects of disease outbreaks often remain hidden in the recesses of our minds until they hit home. History has seen its fair share of life-altering disease outbreaks and pandemics.  Is the 21st Century prone to another pandemic?  With a growing healthcare infrastructure in the world today, are global epidemics e even possible?  Or can a disease found in a third-world country bring a nation like America to its knees?  The answer is a profound yes, and its reasoning may surprise many.

Several disease outbreaks and epidemics throughout history have crippled nations and even the world.  The following are ten disease epidemics that have the potential to do the same in the world today, both as healthcare and socio-economic crises:

  1. Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that mainly affects the lungs. It has been prevalent even during ancient times. During the 18th Century, some believed that tuberculosis was attributed to vampires, since many in a family would slowly become ill after the death of one family member. During the early 20th Century, tuberculosis was responsible for one in six deaths in France, and was associated with those living in urban poverty.

TB is an airborne disease spread through coughing and sneezing. Although almost one-third of the world’s population is believed to be infected with tuberculosis, it’s prevalence in slowly declining through better healthcare efforts. It remains one of the epidemics with widespread public health effects in developing countries. This resulted in almost 1.5 million deaths in 2014.  Those living in highly populated and poverty stricken regions are often affected with tuberculosis, which has an estimated 22 percent infection rate.  Because TB is the second-most common cause of death among infectious diseases (second to HIV/AIDS), it remains an epidemic that can adversely affect our world’s safety today.

  1. Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus.  Symptoms resemble most other flu-like symptoms with a characteristic skin rash.  However, some symptoms develop into Dengue hemorrhagic fever which can result in bleeding, low blood platelets, and shock when blood pressure falls to dangerous levels.

There is a vaccine for Dengue Fever, although its use is minimal as it is only 60 percent effective.

Best treatment options revolve around non-exposure methods in endemic regions, which involve more than 110 countries. More than 50 people are infected with Dengue Fever each year, in which 10,000 to 20,000 of the infected die.  The disease, much like other vector-borne diseases, is more prevalent in urban settlements in tropic regions.  As populations, poverty, and unhygienic living conditions increase, Dengue Fever will only become more of an issue.  Because of its prevalence and treatment costs, Dengue Fever is rated as one of the most prevalent mosquito-borne diseases in the world today. Therefore remains a concern for public health officials.

  1. Marburg Virus

The Marburg virus disease (MVD) was first identified in 1967 during epidemics in Marburg Germany through infected research monkeys delivered from Uganda. MVD is a severe and highly fatal disease caused by a virus from the same family as Ebola. It is among the most virulent pathogens known to mankind. Symptoms begin abruptly with severe headaches, which often lead to hemorrhagic fevers less than a week later. Fatalities are often accompanied by severe bleeding from the body’s orifices, especially through projectile vomit and explosive diarrhea.  Fatality rates range anywhere between 25 percent from the 1967 outbreak, to more than 80 percent in later outbreaks seen between 1998 and 2005.

Like similar viruses, the Marburg virus is transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons, or by handling dead infected wild animals.  The virus originates from African fruit bats, where it remains endemic in African nations today.  Although lesser known, an outbreak could mean widespread disease in underdeveloped regions.

  1. Malaria

Malaria is a parasite that is transmitted through a species of mosquito known as Anopheles. It causes severe illness in those infected with the disease.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 3.2 billion people live in regions endemic with the disease. This is responsible for over 212 million cases of illness in 2015 that resulted in 429,000 deaths. Severe Malaria symptoms are complicated by serious organ failure, impairment of consciousness, seizures, coma, and death if left untreated.

Although Malaria was all but eliminated in the United States in the early 1950s, there are almost 2,000 cases reported each year. These are mostly from travelers that bring the disease into the nation’s borders. Because the United States is home to the Anopheles mosquito, the mosquito species responsible for carrying Malaria, there is always a risk that Malaria could make a comeback.

  1. Plague

No disease in the history of mankind has the diabolical stigma that Plague does. “Plague” is often used to reference our greatest fears in the world of epidemics. Technically, the Plague is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is which is transmitted through fleas after feeding off of infected rats. Once the Plague finds a host in the human body, it will manifest itself in one of three different forms:  Bubonic, Septicemic, and the deadliest form, Pneumonic.  Once in these forms, the Plague is spreadable in the air or through direct contact to others.

All but eradicated in developed countries, Plague still rears its ugly head in pockets throughout the world. It remains a concern for public health disease specialists. Plague is highly contagious, extremely vicious, and could cause death within the same day if left untreated.  Although Plague is not a prevalent disease in the world today. The fact that it has such a high fatality rate, it has adversely altered the socio-economic landscapes of history’s most powerful nations. As well, it has been used effectively as a bio-terrorism agent throughout time. It is considered one of the most dangerous diseases known to man.  Is it likely to resurface as another pandemic?  If it does, however, you can bet that the world as seen today would be forever marred by its deadly clutches.

  1. SARS

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, saw its first and only outbreak between 2002 and 2003. It is a respiratory disease that is caused by a corona-virus.  During its outbreak, which started in Southern China and spread to 37 countries, SARS infected almost 8,100 individuals. Of which 774 died from the infection.

A case of SARS hasn’t been reported since 2004, which is lucky because it has a 9.6 percent fatality rate.  Its symptoms are flu-like, but eventually can lead to viral or bacterial pneumonia. With no known vaccine, the only effective means of containment is isolation, quarantine, and personal hygiene.

SARS left the world as mysteriously as it swept in with no known cause or vaccine to combat it.  Although public health efforts worked, it remains a bleak reminder that nature is in control.

  1. Cholera

Cholera is a disease that has been the by-product of most wars and natural disasters throughout history. It is caused by a bacterial infection within the intestines that develops massive amounts of fluid in the intestinal cells. This leads to explosive vomiting and diarrhea.  The infection spreads through contaminated food and water that has traces of vomit or feces. This causes massive outbreaks in short amounts of time through overcrowded areas that lack clean water and basic sanitation systems. Recent Cholera outbreaks have been seen in the Haiti Earthquake of 2010, and war-torn areas such as Yemen and Syria.

Symptoms of Cholera appear within three days and result from severe dehydration due to the profuse vomiting and diarrhea.  Without treatment, patients may die within hours.

According to the WHO, Cholera affects 1.4 to 4.3 million people worldwide. It is responsible from anywhere between 28,000 to 142,000 deaths per year. There have been six Cholera pandemics in history that are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide. A current pandemic began in South Asia in 1961 which spread to the Americas in 1991, where it remains an endemic disease today.

  1. Ebola

No epidemics have affected the media like the 2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. This is history’s largest recorded outbreak. It included almost 11,500 deaths, including one American. The last Ebola outbreak is a grim reminder that diseases not only affect the healthcare status in countries, but also socio-economic and emotional psyches as well.  Ebola is a hemorrhagic disease from the Filoviridae virus family that causes severe hemorrhaging from orifices such as the mouth, anus, and nose.

It was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in Africa and has since then spread through communal pockets within the continent.  The natural carrier of Ebola remains a mystery. Many health officials believe that the virus is an animal-borne disease found in bats.  Most individuals get Ebola through direct contract of bodily fluids such as urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen.  Can Ebola become a fast-growing epidemic here in America?

The 2015 Ebola scare in America creates a healthy debate of which can be worse:  the disease outbreak itself, or the consequence that lead to changes in a nation’s governmental response. Ebola is an extremely frightening disease that has no cure.

The fact that its victims die an excruciatingly painful and grotesque death heighten the fear. Ebola is highly contagious, especially in third world countries and healthcare settings.   What is the safest way to stay safe from Ebola?  Stay far, far away from it.

  1. Zika

The Zika virus is an interesting disease in that it does not pose a substantial health risk to those who contract it.  It does, however, pose a serious risk to unborn children who, if infected with Zika, may develop a condition known as Microcephaly. This causes severe brain damage and is manifest as an infant’s abnormally small head-to-body ratio size.

The disease is endemic in tropical climates and spread through the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito or through sexual intercourse with an infected partner.  While most of the United States may not harbor Aedes aegypti mosquitos, it is home to other species of the Aedes mosquito family such as vexans and albopictus.

Through continental flooding, it would not be unheard of to see the disease migrate into the U.S. This could make the Zika virus one of the nation’s worst health care crises since the outbreak of Polio. If the virus does spread to such a degree, it would equally affect the socio-economic status of the United States. American families would be hard hit to care for a generation of babies infected with Zika. This infected population who would suffer shorter life-spans and need 24/7 care from families and healthcare agencies.

  1. Influenza Epidemics

In its worst form, it is highly pathogenic, highly contagious, and highly fatal.  During 1918, it was common place for those infected to show symptoms and be dead by day’s end.  Author John Barry wrote about the flu in Philadelphia. “In 10 days … the epidemic had exploded from a few hundred civilian cases and one or two deaths a day to hundreds of thousands ill and hundreds of deaths each day.”  So many died so quickly that bodies were piled 20 feet in the alleys behind hospitals.

A pandemic influenza affects strong, young adults and pregnant women. This is because a young adult’s immune system is stronger and attacks the disease with such veracity, that the body floods itself the patient chokes to death with fluids and blood.

While the 2009 H1N1 pandemic was not overly deadly, it does bring attention to flu viruses that have “pandemic potential.” Strains of influenza currently circulate throughout the world and have the potential to mutate into deadlier forms. These are easily transmitted between humans.  Many of them have high fatality rates. And if mutated to easily transmissible forms, the virus have the potential to become severe pandemics.

Nature is in Control

Disease outbreaks and epidemics are no different, and bear the grim reminder that human life is fragile and that ultimately, nature is in control. Epidemics experts can readily track disease outbreaks, and hopefully stop the spread of disease before it gets out of hand.  But past our technology and extensive medical expertise, history tells us another story in which nature occasionally reminds us that it is in charge, that silent organisms exist that have leveled societies, and we are often bystanders to stand in awe of their veracity.  Although silent disasters wait to reveal themselves, it is our job to learn from history’s worst epidemics, prepare our families as best possible, but also live life to the fullest in light of what will eventually be.

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