H5N1, also known as bird flu or avian influenza, pops up every now and then, and it scares the United States more than any other outbreak. The death toll is enormous, at least if you consider the number of birds that have died. Granted, it’s never been that big of a problem in the United States as far as human contraction.
When you combine all human deaths worldwide, the death toll was only in the hundreds, which is considered low. The real fact of the matter is that there hasn’t been a single case of bird flu contracted by a human since 2017. It’s difficult for the virus to take host in humans, but that could always change, so health officials are keeping a watchful eye.
Swine flu, aka pig influenza, started in pigs and caused a huge panic in 2009. The scariest part about this flu was that it’s a new version of the Spanish flu, which killed 3% to 6% of the world’s population in 1918, according to a study in Emerging Infectious Diseases. Early outbreaks of the new strain began in April 2009 and spread rapidly around the world. Unlike most cases of flu, this one spread during the summer rather than the cooler months.
The swine flu infected nearly 61 million people in the United States and caused a total of 12,469 deaths. Because it shared so many similarities with the 1918 Spanish flu, older people were less affected. The highest death toll was among children. The swine flu is still around to this day but is no longer a concern in the United States.
Mad cow has a pretty long name – bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This neurodegenerative disease affects mostly cattle, causing abnormal behavior, trouble walking, weight loss, and eventually death. In 2003, news broke that a human contracted the disease in Washington state. In Humans, the disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
Immediately after the infection was discovered, whole farms were quarantined, beef was recalled, and the USDA put forth new feeding and slaughtering protocols. In the last 15 years, there have only been six cases of the disease in the United States, although other countries have many more. The United Kingdom alone has 177 since 1996.
There are more than enough drug-resistant bacteria out there to worry about, but none more so than methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This infection is contracted in hospitals for the most part. The MRSA Research Center reported that 90,000 Americans suffer from invasive MRSA, and as many as 20,000 die, most of them children.
MRSA is still very much a problem, something that the healthcare system battles every day. Some scientists believe that the United States healthcare system has fallen behind other countries in infection control, and this is why MRSA runs rampant in our nation.
SARS was a terrifying illness that popped up in 2002 in southern China. It spread quickly throughout the country. Entire areas were quarantined, and schools shut down. The illness had a 9.6% mortality rate, with around 774 people dying in 17 countries (via the World Health Organization). While the disease was mostly refined to China and nearby countries, some outbreaks caused panic in North America.
The United States had eight people who were infected, and all of them traveled to countries where SARS was spreading. Due to quick action, the disease was halted in the U.S., and there hasn’t been a single case of SARS since late 2004. Regardless, it was an outbreak that terrified the world.
The coronavirus is the newest epidemic that’s causing worldwide panic, and there’s a good reason for it. So far, the coronavirus is outpacing SARS in China. Once again, schools have shut down, and there have been nearly 6,000 (via New York Times) confirmed cases in China, although Chinese officials suspect that the number is much higher.
The coronavirus is also spreading to other countries, with at least five cases in the United States already. The CDC is responding by putting screenings at all major airports. China has shut down all public, cultural, and leisure facilities until things die down. Americans from the outbreak epicenter are being flown back to the states via Alaska to be screened.
The flu doesn’t seem like something to be concerned about, but it can be pretty serious. Since 2010, hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this illness. One of the worst was the 2014-2015 season, where 56,000 people died, according to the New York Times. The 2017-2018 season was even worse, with 79,400 deaths, as reported by the CDC.
This year is suspected to be even worse, and some news reports are releasing saying it’ll be even worse than the swine flu epidemic. Officials are encouraging people to get the flu vaccine. While it may not keep you from getting sick, it will lessen the severity of the illness and quicken recovery time.
Hepatitis A has been a concern as of late, especially with more and more cases popping up in restaurants all over the United States. While it can be spread through food, the illness can also be transmitted person-to-person. Since 2016, 30 states have reported over 28,000 total cases and 285 deaths, according to the American Medical Association.
While scary, hepatitis A isn’t as terrifying as the other hepatitis infections. Hepatitis A is curable, unlike hepatitis B. Symptoms mostly include fatigue, nausea, abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, and a low-grade fever. So far, Florida and Kentucky have been hit the hardest this year.
The Zika virus is an extremely rare disease that’s usually transmitted through mosquito bites, but it can also be transmitted by intercourse. Most people who are infected with the illness won’t have any symptoms, or they’ll be very mild. However, pregnant women are a special concern as Zika can spread to the fetus and cause severe brain defects.
Microcephaly is one of the biggest concerns, as well as Guillain-Barre syndrome. Zika hit hard in 2016, but most people forgot about it. That being said, it’s still spreading throughout Brazil and other countries, making it a very real concern. Health officials fear that this could spread to the United States, and will, in just a matter of time.
In 2000, the CDC announced that measles had been eliminated in the United States. Unfortunately, several states have been experiencing outbreaks. Between January 1, 2019 and October 1, 2019, there were 1,249 cases of measles, which is the highest annual number since 1992.
Many of the cases occurred in New York, especially New York City. Of those infected, 89% were patients who were unvaccinated or had an unknown vaccination status, according to the CDC. At least 10% of those were hospitalized, but thankfully, no one has died.
The bubonic plague? As in, the Black Death, which occurred in the 1300-1400s? Yes. That very same one. Recent outbreaks of the bubonic plague sent the world into a tizzy in 2019. China was one of the first countries to have an outbreak, although they’re certainly not the only country to have outbreaks of the deadly disease.
There’s no need to panic, however. The bubonic plague pops up from time to time, but it rarely causes a major problem, at least compared to things like the flu. In recent decades, an average of seven plague cases have been reported each year, but few of those cases result in death.
West Nile Virus
West Nile virus is an illness that is spread by mosquitos, but most people in the United States already knew that due to the outbreak in the early 2000s. According to the CDC, there were 9,862 cases and 264 deaths in 2003. The virus popped back up again in 2008 and 2009 when there were a combined 899 cases.
The virus popped up elsewhere, as well, although the numbers were far lower. While we’d like to say West Nile is gone for good, a death from the virus occurred as early as July 2018, when an Italian man died and 12 others were hospitalized.
Ebola has become a bigger issue than many people realize, especially since it has a mortality rate of about 50%. Between December 2013 to January 2016, a total of 11,323 people have died from the virus. The biggest outbreaks are occurring in Africa, but there have been cases in the United States. Some reporters are claiming that Ebola has gotten so bad that the disease has become normalized in our society, similar to the flu.
Despite panicking in the United States, there’s no need to worry. In December 2019, a vaccination was approved, and it appears to be fully effective after ten days of being given. Many states have instituted a mandatory 21-day quarantine for anyone returning home that’s been in Ebola-ravaged countries or came into contact with someone that had the infection.
While things like the flu can be scary to deal with, a quieter infection lurks beneath the surface. The flu can spur pneumonia, but several other illnesses could also cause it. While we don’t want to seem all doom and gloom, it can also be a lot scarier. As the flu season gets stronger, so do cases of pneumonia. Every year 50,000 people die from this disease just in the United States.
Most of the people that are affected by pneumonia are adults, but the infection kills more children every year compared to any other infectious disease. Thankfully, vaccines and antibiotics help prevent these deaths as long as they’re administered quickly enough.
Acute Flaccid Myelitis
In 2014, a strange illness popped up that no one knew about. Later, it was called “acute flaccid myelitis,” or AFM for short. AFM affects the spinal cord and causes muscles to become weak, making it very similar to polio. At first, it started with a couple of cases, but that number has been steadily increasing every two years since 2014.
In 2019 alone, there were 33 cases, which brings the total up to 603 in the United States. The CDC doesn’t know the cause of this virus, but they believe that it has something to do with having a mild respiratory illness, as 90% of the patients had one prior to developing AFM. There is no way to prevent AFM, and there is specific treatment.