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My List of the Five Deadliest Communicable Diseases
I was reading a very interesting article titled “The Five Deadliest Diseases in History” where the author looked at the deadliest diseases in history in terms of number of deaths over time.
I wanted to do something similar but from a different angle. My list includes 5 diseases that are always or almost always fatal.
Some of these diseases are quite rare, some are well known. Some have no treatment options available and some have antibiotics, vaccination or other treatment, but death is a sure thing without proper and timely treatment.
The dictionary definition of case fatality rate is the proportion of individuals who contract a disease and die from that disease. The following communicable diseases have a case fatality rate of one hundred or nearly 100%.
Prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) are characterized by progressive deterioration of the brain. Human prion diseases are always fatal.
TSEs include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and all its variants, kuru, and Gerstmann-Staussler-Scheinker syndrome.
Although not fully characterized, a prion is an abnormally folded protein that can have long incubation times of several years.
Human prion diseases can be contracted through diet, medical treatment, surgery or blood transfusion and some are considered genetic. There is no cure for human prion disease.
Infection with this free-living amoeba known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) is nearly 100% fatal, even with treatment.
The amoeba invades the brain through the nose while people participate in recreational water activities in warm, fresh water. The amoeba finds its way to the brain when water rushes into the nose and destroys brain tissue.
Symptoms of this very rare disease include severe frontal headache, hallucinations, fever and death occurs within 10 days.
This viral disease that people get from the bite of an infected animal is almost 100% fatal without timely vaccination and rabies immunoglobulin.
Headaches, fever, hydrophobia, delirium and sometimes convulsions are the symptoms observed before coma and death.
Rabies is not a rare disease and 55,000 people die this horrible death worldwide, mostly in developing countries, due to inadequate or non-existent post-exposure treatment.
Untreated septicaemic and pulmonary plague
While untreated bubonic plague has a case fatality rate of up to 60%, untreated septicemic and pneumonic plague is invariably fatal.
Plague is caused by infection with the bacterium Yersinia pestis. People usually catch this disease from the bite of a plague-infected flea. With timely and appropriate antibiotic treatment, all forms of plague can be controlled.
Untreated African sleeping sickness
This disease, limited to certain regions of Africa, is fatal without appropriate treatment. This parasitic disease of the Trypanosoma species is transmitted to humans through the bite of the tsetse fly.
This disease begins with fever, headaches and joint pain and then invades the central nervous system.
At this point, confusion and a disturbed sleep cycle kick in and without treatment, coma and death will ensue.
The following communicable diseases receive honorable mention as being close to having a case fatality rate of 100%:
Up to 90% lethality: Ebola virus
Up to 85% lethality: untreated inhalation anthrax
Up to 80% lethality: Marburg virus
More than 70% lethality: herpes B virus
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