We are blessed to live in an era with readily available vaccines and antibiotics. Therefore, those of us who live comfortably in developed countries may incorrectly assume that many diseases with scary, historical-sounding names have been wiped out. However, there are many people in other parts of the world who are not so fortunate. These populations continue to deal with frightening diseases that should be easily preventable. Furthermore, the ease of travel means that diseases are not always confined to distant parts of the world. The following are 15 diseases you may not even realize still exist to torment humankind.
Sadly, cholera is a disease that is still rampant in countries where individuals do not have access to clean drinking water. Cholera is an illness caused by Vibrio cholerae, which infects the intestines and results in watery diarrhea. While some cholera infections are mild, others bring about such severe diarrhea that the resulting dehydration can cause death. According to the World Health Organization, recent cholera epidemics have occurred in countries such as Haiti, Somalia, Tanzania, and Yemen.
Gout may sound like an old-fashioned condition, but this form of arthritis appears to be on the increase in the United States. In gout, painful uric acid crystals form in the joints. According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, gout has been referred to as the “disease of kings” because it was linked to the rich diets of the wealthy. While gout is actually caused by an immune reaction to uric acid in the blood, perhaps this nickname isn’t so far off the mark. The incidence of gout has risen in recent years, along with a rise in obesity.
While leprosy was a disease prevalent in biblical times, it is still in existence today. Although you are more likely to contract leprosy in certain parts of India, Brazil, Indonesia, or Africa, leprosy has recently cropped up in the U.S. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Americans are unlikely to contract leprosy unless they are in close contact with armadillos. According to the CDC, the bacterium that causes leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, is carried by armadillos in the southern United States.
Despite the ready availability of the measles vaccine, cases of measles have been cropping up in the United States. In fact, the CDC reports there were more cases of measles reported in the first five months of 2019 than had been seen in over 25 years. Those at risk for measles include unvaccinated persons who travel to countries where measles is prevalent. People may also be exposed to measles in a close, highly populated setting such as a college campus. If you have been exposed to measles, contact your doctor to determine what precautions you should take.
Mumps is a viral infection that had been significantly decreased following the introduction of vaccines. According to the CDC, mumps vaccines are given in two doses. The first occurs at the age of 12-15 months, and the second at the age of 4-6 years. Vaccination dramatically decreases the risk of mumps. However, those living in close, crowded contact with others may still contract this disease. Symptoms of mumps include puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw as the salivary glands become inflamed. Other symptoms are headache, fever, fatigue, and achy muscles.
German measles, or rubella, is a viral infection that is relatively rare in the U.S. due to vaccination. Symptoms of this infection typically appear as fever, sore throat, and a rash that spreads from the face to other parts of the body. This infection is particularly dangerous for unborn babies. Certain countries in Africa, the Middle East, and southern and southeast Asia continue to see diagnoses of rubella. In the United States, the rubella vaccine is given in combination with the vaccines for measles and mumps.
The term “plague” may call to mind pictures of filthy medieval towns or overcrowded tenements. However, the plague still exists today. According to the CDC, the plague is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected rodent flea or contact with infected body fluids or tissues. Plague can show up in three different forms. Bubonic plague occurs when fever and chills accompany inflamed lumps on the body. Septicemic plague describes a plague infection of the blood. Pneumonic plague occurs when the bacteria infect the lungs.
Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a viral infection that can be transmitted from one person to another. This disease enters through the respiratory tract and can travel through the bloodstream to infect the brain and spinal cord. When the brain and spinal cord become involved, there is a risk of paralysis and even death. While the World Health Organization states that the number of cases of polio has decreased by more than 99% since 1988, this disease has not been wiped out in Nigeria, Afghanistan, or Pakistan.
Rickets is a condition in which bones become soft and weak due to a lack of vitamin D. Your body uses vitamin D obtained from sunlight and food sources to aid calcium in building strong and healthy bones. If a person is unable to get enough vitamin D through these sources, or if the body is unable to metabolize vitamin D properly, disease can set in. Certain disorders and medications that prevent proper absorption of vitamin D can cause this condition, as can living in a region with little sunshine.
If you hear the word scurvy, your mind may dredge up the image of pirates adrift at sea without access to oranges. Sadly, the pirates of yesteryear aren’t the only individuals at risk of the nutritional deficiencies that can cause scurvy. There are plenty of people today who lack proper nutrition due to homelessness or poverty. A lack of vitamin C can result in scurvy. Early signs of this condition may be nonspecific symptoms of tiredness, loss of appetite, and weakness. Later signs may include swollen gums, tooth loss, bruised or scaly skin, and bleeding.
This sexually transmitted disease is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Infection with this disease had been on the decline. However, the United States saw an increase in syphilis infections beginning in 2017. Individuals who engage in sex without the use of condoms are at an increased risk for developing syphilis. Likewise, those who do not maintain monogamous relationships with one partner and those who are infected with HIV are at higher risk.
Tuberculosis (TB) is a bacterial infection, transmitted through the air, that usually affects the lungs. Symptoms include a long-lasting cough, chest pain, and coughing or spitting up blood. Those at risk for contracting TB are individuals who spend time in close, crowded contact with TB-infected patients. This is especially true when traveling to countries with higher rates of TB. A TB test before leaving the U.S. and 8-10 weeks after returning home can indicate whether you have been exposed to TB.
Typhoid is uncommon in the U.S. However, it is more prevalent in other countries and can be picked up by Americans when traveling. Typhoid fever, caused by the Salmonella typhi bacteria, is spread through food that has been handled by persons infected with this bacterium. It can also be spread through contaminated drinking water. Obtain a vaccination against this disease before traveling to countries where typhoid is more common.
2. Whooping Cough
The whooping cough is distinguished from other respiratory infections by the “whoop” sound an infected individual makes when coughing and drawing in a breath. In the early stages, whooping cough may mimic a cold, with a runny nose, congestion, and a mild cough. As the disease progresses, congestion increases, and it may become difficult to cough up thick, sticky mucus. A person may turn red or blue in the face as they strain to cough up phlegm. Coughing spells may also trigger vomiting, exhaustion, and the telltale whooping sound.
1. Yellow Fever
Yellow fever is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. This disease gets its name from the yellow tint that jaundice gives the skin of yellow fever victims. Other symptoms of this disease are fever, headache, muscle pain, and loss of appetite. Yellow fever is most commonly found in tropical regions of Africa and South America.