From the dawn of human existence the biggest threat to mankind has not been wild animals, natural disasters, or wars raged by humans. Rather, viruses and diseases invisible to the naked eye have been humankind’s biggest contender. These disastrous killers date back as early as biblical times, with skin diseases such as leprosy mentioned in the old testament, and we continue to learn more about quickly emerging modern epidemics such as the Zika Virus and Ebola. These diseases have raged warfare on communities around the globe, and continue to kill off hundreds of millions worldwide each year. When we find a cure or treatment for one, two others appear in its place, ready to attack our most vulnerable bodily functions, decimating our ability to complete our normal life functions. From the gross enlargement of human limbs caused by elephantiasis, to the severe brain damage caused by meningitis, there is a disease for every imaginable part of the human body.
Just as these killers have been around for ages, so have the myths surrounding methods of treatment, cures, and transmission. These inaccuracies can prove to be equally as deadly as the diseases themselves, sometimes involving treatment methods that require wacky and dangerous procedures! Other myths create unwarranted stigmas that taint entire communities, the prevention of which could have simply occurred if people knew the truth.
Our strongest defence against these prolific conditions is knowledge itself! Unfortunately, much of this information can only be scientifically proven through years of experimentation and study, by which time millions have died.
Here are 12 surprisingly common myths about the world’s deadliest diseases, both present and past, that have been proven to be wildly incorrect.
12. If You Are Pregnant And Have HIV, Your Baby Will Have HIV, Too
HIV, or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is acquired through contact with infected blood, mucous membranes, bodily fluids such as semen, and needles. This dangerous virus can be deadly if left untreated, lowering the boy’s immunity to external threats that cause infections that could otherwise be naturally fought off. It damages and reduces the number of CD4 (T cells), which is one of the immune system’s strongest defense mechanisms against dangerous viruses.
Most people think that the baby of an HIV-positive person will always end up with HIV, due to the shared fluids that pass between the fetus and the pregnant woman. However, according to CNN Health, women who are HIV-positive, not seeking treatment, and pregnant only present a 25-33% probability rate of passing the virus onto their child. This rate is even further reduced if these women use antiretroviral therapy which lowers their viral cell counts.
11. Being Infected With Malaria Once Makes You Immune
214 million cases of Malaria were reported worldwide in 2015, resulting in over 438,000 deaths, according to the CDC. This virus is no joke – it can cause extreme chills, fever, flu-like symptoms, and remains one of the deadliest viruses that plagues our planet today. It is passed on by infected mosquitos, and is most prevalent in Africa and South Asia.
Although communities and people can develop what is known as “acquired immunity,” or partial protection from repeated infections, humans never develop true immunity to the disease. Just because you survive the first infection does not mean you are safe from the second!
10. The Measles Vaccine Causes Autism
It’s baffling that this disease still causes child deaths in the United States today simply due to parents’ decisions to forgo vaccines because of this myth.
The World Health Organization characterizes measles as a highly contagious viral disease transmitted through droplets from the mouth, nose, and throat of infected people. The virus can be especially deadly for children who are still developing immune systems. Common symptoms include rashes on the face, white spots on tongue, and have been known to cause blindness and pneumonia.
Alix Casler, medical director and physician at Orlando Health Physician Enterprise, confirms that scientific studies have failed to show any connection between the measles vaccine and autism. Medical professionals from around the world agree with her, however there is still a surprising number of parents in the United States that believe these vaccines are linked to childhood autism.
9. You Will Catch Leprosy If You Touch Someone Who Is Infected
This disease dates back to biblical times, with several portions of the old testament mentioning the disease and suggested treatment. Leprosy is a chronic condition caused by a bacteria that destroys skin tissue and causes extreme nerve damage and pain. Infected individuals experience symptoms ranging from mild rashes to loss of limbs, and in some cases, death. Although worldwide counts of infections have dropped dramatically with the technological advances we have seen in the medical field, the oldest civilizations feared it to be an incurable and extremely mutilating disease.
Although most believe that it is dangerous to get close to an infected individual, let alone touch their skin, most humans (over 95%) are naturally immune to the germ that causes this disease, according to leprosy.org.
8. Rabies Can Only Be A Threat If Bitten Or Scratched By An Infected Animal
Although most current deaths resulting from this disease occur in remote and underdeveloped communities with poor access to medical technology, rabies still exists as one of the scariest diseases that infect both humans and animals. According to the World Health Organization, it takes humans 1-3 months after exposure to show any symptoms of this disease, but after this incubation period is over humans become dangerously hyperactive, hydrophobic (afraid of water), and eventual death occurs as a result of cardiovascular arrest.
While most infections do occur from bites and scratches of infected animals, this is not the only means of transmission. The Food and Agriculture Organization cites several cases that have been by airborne transmission, and warns this is especially dangerous when handling bat guano or in bat caves.
7. You Can Catch Ebola On Planes Because It Is Airborne
Ebola presents a case of a more recent epidemic that has plagued not only parts of West Africa, but areas in Asia, Europe, and even North America. With over 28,000 cases reported in three African countries between 2014-2015 alone, resulting in over 11,000 deaths during the same timeline, this has proven to be one of the deadliest outbreaks in recent history.
The CDC identifies several transmission methods, ranging from contact with blood or bodily fluids, contact with objects containing the virus, and contact with animals who have the virus, however none of these include the risk of airborne molecules. A human cannot contract Ebola from the air or injected food and water.
6. Scientists Have Traced Back The Origin of SARS
Remember back in 2003 when the outbreak of this unknown virus shook Chinese populations and shocked the world? The outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic marked one of the scariest outbreaks that has been compared to the Spanish Influenza. Unlike Ebola, SARS can be transmitted through close person-to-person contact with other infected individuals by droplets present in the air.
Jianfeng He, the chief expert and Guangdong provincial director of the CDC, confirms that the source of the virus still remains a mystery. Although some scientists have pointed to animal species such as Civets and bats, he says that real scientific evidence confirming any true origin still does not exist.
5. Contracting The Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Is A Death Sentence
The Avian Influenza Virus causes an extremely aggressive form of pneumonia that often proves fatal, especially in younger and older age groups. Other symptoms are highly reflected of extreme versions of the human flu. From 2003-2010, 505 cases of this disease were documented, resulting in 300 deaths. Although a 60% mortality rate is certainly a cause for concern, access to modern intensive care and antiviral therapy reduces these rates dramatically. In addition to modern treatment therapies that have proven to dramatically lower death rates, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a vaccine that would prevent against the H5N1 strain of the virus.
4. The Death Rate Of Cholera Has Consistently Decreased
This often fatal condition is caused by exposure to a bacteria that affects the bowels, causing acute watery diarrhea that can lead to kidney failure and severe hydration. According to CNN Health, a total of 236,896 cases were reported in 2006, indicating an overall increase of 79% compared to numbers from the previous year alone. This disease remains a concern in almost every developing country, and mortality rates of contracted cases are as high as 50%. This disease is especially dangerous in the way that it has the ability to kill a healthy adult within hours, while up to 75% of infected people show no symptoms at all.
3. There Is Treatment Medication For Dengue Fever
For a virus that has been around for so long and involved in hundreds of scientific studies, it is surprising that it still has no vaccine or specific treatment method. Similar to malaria, Dengue induces severe headache, high fever, joint pain, and severe abdominal pain. In extreme cases Dengue has caused internal bleeding and circulatory failure, ending in almost certain death.
Mosquitos just can’t catch a break, can they? Again, these little insects are the culprits of transmission, the bites from which cause the infection. Reducing risk of exposure to mosquitos can lower one’s risk of acquiring both Dengue and Malaria.
2. People Who Have Had Typhoid Fever Do Not Harbor The Bacteria
Back in the 1920s, over 35,000 cases of typhoid fever were documented in the United States. Although the rate of infection has decreased to approximately 5,700 annual cases reported in the US, this acute illness affects over 21 million around the world on a yearly basis.
It is caused by a bacteria known as Salmonella paratyphi, deposited through fecal contamination in water and food. Cases of this disease are unsurprisingly higher in underdeveloped countries with lower health and food standards. Although most who recover from an infection eradicate the bacteria entirely, approximately 3-5% of patients become carriers, presenting the possibility of further transmission.
1. Testing Positive For A Tuberculosis Skin Test Means You Have It
Finally, Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection caused by a bacteria known as mycobacterium tuberculosis. It usually attacks one of the most vulnerable parts of the human body – the lungs, this version of the disease known as pulmonary tuberculosis. This disease continues to be one of the worst and most widespread threats, infecting 9.6 million in 2014, and killing 1.5 million, according to the World Health Organization.
Although testing positive on a tuberculosis skin test can be scary, it does not always mean the subject has contracted the disease. Rather, it indicates that the individual has been exposed to the bacteria.