The history of humankind is replete with examples of terrible epidemics that cause death, destruction and suffering for millions of people. Occasionally, epidemics are so awful and widespread that they end up changing the course of human history.
The black plague was one such epidemic, causing the death of anywhere between 75 and 200 million people around the world. It reduced the overall population of earth by as much as 20%. The entire continent of Europe was ravaged and the it took approximately 150 years for the areas worst affected to recover. Scientists even speculate that the survival of certain genetic markers differentiates those who survived the plague from genetics that didn’t survive.
Since then, medical science has drastically evolved to be able to fight some of the most despised scourges through the development of vaccines and medications. These advancements work alongside education programs that treat, prevent and cure previously frightening diseases.
However, humans are both smart enough to develop cures that miraculously destroy the existence of entire diseases – and dumb enough to allow them to return to prominence through ignorance and generalized stupidity. Like these ten diseases; we once thought they were gone, but they’re making a comeback.
10. The Gout
Nicknamed “The King’s Disease”, the gout is making a comeback after historically low levels of the condition being present in American culture. The gout has doubled its presence since the beginning of the 1990s, with more than four percent of adults suffering the symptoms of this disease.
One cause of increased gout are the progressively worsening diets consisting of fatty foods and increased alcohol consumption, both of which vastly increase the likelihood of gout in people who are younger than the elderly.
Rickets had its heyday more than 100 years ago, as increasing industrialization throughout the 19th century saw more factory workers, specifically children, spending long and punishing work hours indoors. This led to a lack of Vitamin D in their body. These child workers were also poorly fed, which exasperated their malnutrition.
Since the disease all but disappeared for well over 100 years, doctors were astonished when a spike in rickets was found in kids in 2009. Nearly one thousand kids from England were showing signs of stunted growth, bow legs and bone problems. A poor diet and children spending too much time indoors was found to be the culprit.
One of the deadliest respiratory diseases to exist before the discovery of antibiotics was tuberculosis, which infects the lungs and can lead to permanent scarring of lung tissue, difficulty breathing and eventually even death.
Although the world did well in reducing the impact of tuberculosis, a rise in cases around the globe over the past few years are being attributed to a new, more virulent strain that’s resistant to antibiotics.
Known as the “White Plague”, this new version of tuberculosis is feared to be an incurable condition. Misuse and overuse of antibiotics are to blame, as TB cells adapt to this previously powerful cure.
7. Scarlet Fever
An incredibly contagious and damaging disease, scarlet fever is first recorded during the 1500s. Outbreaks were widely feared due to the disease’s ability to rapidly spread throughout communities.
Symptoms included fever, severe rash, red lines along folds of the skin, strawberry tongue, mouth ring, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting and enlarged lymph nodes. Left untreated, the bacteria can spread to crucial systems and lead to blindness, organ failure and death.
Scarlet fever is currently exploding in China – with three times more cases recorded in 2010 than in 2009 – and Macao, which has seen a 400% rise in cases of the disease. A new strain resistant to antibiotics is to blame, and it has even been found in Michigan.
The mumps is a virus that’s easily spread and is often found in children, who end up suffering from effects such as muscle pain, fever, headaches, lethargy, swollen face and glands and a loss of appetite.
Left untreated, mumps can lead to sterility, brain inflammation, spinal cord meningitis, inflammation of ovaries and breasts in females who have reached puberty and even permanent deafness.
A recent spike in this disease is due to the anti-vaccination movement. It even ended up ravaging dozens of players in the NHL, many of whom were vaccinated. Before the vaccine, over 300,000 cases of the mumps were found annually, which was then reduced to about 200 per year post-vaccine. This has now increased into the thousands, with 6,584 cases of the mumps recorded in 2006.
This terrible disease has been around since ancient Egypt, although doctors first specifically described the disease in 1789. The frequency of polio cases spiked into an epidemic during the first half of the 20th century, leading to more than half a million people killed or paralyzed around the world on a yearly basis.
Even an American President, Franklin Roosevelt, ended up affected by the disease.
When a pair of vaccines all but destroyed polio due to the work of Jonas Salk in 1952, the entire world breathed a sigh of relief. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, religious extremists and anti-vaccination practitioners have created a renewed spike in cases of the disease.
4. Whooping Cough
Yet another disease that is seeing a resurgence among the population is the whooping cough, also known as pertussis. Whooping cough results in uncontrollable coughing, difficulty breathing, extreme fatigue, vomiting, and fever.
Sadly, this is another disease that made a comeback due to parents not vaccinating their children, which has caused outbreaks numbering in the thousands, most notably in California.
Infants are especially at risk, and can suffer brain damage, seizures, severe weight loss, developmental difficulties and death. At its worst whooping cough affected 250,000 children per year, resulting in 9,000 deaths annually.
One of the most infuriating cases of diseases making a comeback is perhaps the measles. It was all but eradicated by a vaccine developed in 1963 that reduced incidences by 99%. Again, anti-vaccination movements spurred by bad popular science gave parents the impression that the vaccine was worse than the disease.
As a result, the United States and Canada have seen outbreaks in the cities of Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Montreal and Toronto. Roald Dahl, British author of the Willy Wonka series and James and the Giant Peach, once described in writing his own tragic experience with the disease, from which his daughter died only 12 hours after the disease took hold.
2. Chicken Pox
Chicken pox, scientifically referred to as varicella-zoster virus, causes extreme discomfort in children and even worse effects in adults who haven’t been vaccinated or developed a resistance to the disease.
Young children experience fever, headaches, stomach aches and itchy skin lesions that result in significant scarring. Older sufferers of the disease experience worse symptoms, with serious complications including transient arthritis, brain damage and a dangerous inflammation of the heart.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted condition that occurs when engaging in unprotected sex with a partner who suffers from the disease. This bacterial infection was first noticed in Italy in 1494 and ravaged the world for more than 400 years before antibiotics and sexual education nearly eliminated its presence.
Its victims included Al Capone and Vincent van Gogh’s brother, with other suspected famous cases ranging from King Henry VIII to Adolf Hitler. Over the past decade, a decline in sexual education and the belief that syphilis isn’t spread through oral sex have contributed to a resurgence of this disease, with some strains showing a resistance to antibiotics.
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