Outbreaks. Pandemics. Epidemics. Let's face it, people are always keeping their eyes on the next big disease threatening to wipe out humanity. With the rise in post-apocalyptic movies and books, it's no wonder people are focusing their attention on these sorts of things. And even as you read these words, there are at least two outbreaks threatening people in different parts of the world.
The scariest is the current outbreak of Ebola in Guinea, Africa. At the time of writing, 70 people have reportedly died from the disease, known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. According to the Medecins Sans Frontieres, “If contracted, Ebola is one of the world’s most deadly diseases. It is a highly infectious virus that can kill up to 90 percent of the people who catch it, causing terror among infected communities.” Ebola is spread through both human and animal contact, and is transmitted through blood, secretions, or other bodily fluids. According to National Geographic, part of the reason it's transmitting from person-to-person is a ritual in some parts of the country where the dead are washed by hand to prepare them for burial. It's meant to be a loving ritual to send them into the afterlife, but it brings people in contact with infected bodily fluids, which aids in the transmission of the deadly disease.
Currently, there is no treatment or vaccine for Ebola. The virus has already moved from the jungle to the capital city of Conakry, and the country of Senegal has reportedly closed its borders to help contain the outbreak. Hopefully, with help from organizations like Medecins Sans Frontieres, they can get the disease under control and stop the transmission. Of course, the devastating nature of this virus has caught the media's attention, and it's something the world will be keeping an eye on to make sure it doesn't spread even further.
While the chances of Ebola coming over to the U.S. is slim, there is another outbreak currently making the rounds in American cities. Less deadly than Ebola, the measles has had a devastating history in and of itself. Measles is believed to have killed more than 200 million people in the last 150 years, though it was considered to have been eradicated in the 2000s. However, it appears to be back and infecting children in some of the richest parts of the country due to concerns over vaccine risks. While vaccinations are generally mandated by the government in the U.S. and are at least strongly recommended by governments in most other Western countries, some parents are attempting to exempt their children. This means certain diseases may become more prevalent; hopefully though, the measles epidemic is easily contained. The projected death toll, as predicted by the CDC, says that one or two out of every 1,000 children who are infected will likely die from the disease. It may not be as deadly as Ebola, but the death of one child is still too many.
This wouldn't be the first time a measles epidemic swept through parts of the country, however. And along with measles, America has experienced its share of different epidemics. But through science and medical intervention, many diseases that were once considered deadly and devastating are not even on our radar anymore. That will hopefully one day be the case for Ebola, and other deadly diseases that are still ravaging the world today. While we have the technology, resources and highly-trained individuals to help contain epidemics these days, in the past an outbreak of a disease was catastrophic. These are 10 incidents of the very worst epidemics in America, and the tragic tolls they took. Some more sensitive readers might want to skip the necessarily graphic descriptions of some of these diseases.
10 Smallpox - 1633 - 1782
9 Measles - 1772 - Present
8 Yellow Fever - 1793 and 1853
7 Tuberculosis - 1800-1922
6 Cholera - 1832 - 1848
5 Polio - 1894, 1916 and 1949-1952
4 Spanish Influenza - 1918
3 Asian Flu - 1957
After the Spanish flu, America had a second deadly influenza outbreak, and this one occurred in 1957. The Asian flu was first identified in East Asia before traveling worldwide. The Asian flu is thought to be responsible for 1-2 million deaths worldwide, but it's considered the least severe of the three influenza pandemics of the 20th century. Even so, 69,000 Americans were killed during the epidemic.
2 AIDS - 1980s- Present
1 Swine Flu - 2009
The Swine flu outbreak in 2009 may not have been nearly as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu (also H1N1), but it still remains as one of the worst flu seasons in recent history. This variation originated in Mexico, and traveled north to the U.S. According to the CDC, 59 million Americans contracted the virus, and 12,000 people died from it. Thankfully, flu vaccines, medical protocols and medication helped contain the virus, preventing it from infecting more individuals. H1N1 now circulates as a human seasonal flu, and 2014 was the first year since 2009 where it was the predominant strain.
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