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12 Weird Disease Outbreaks That Actually Happened In 2015

People still call in sick to work with the plague.... THE PLAGUE.

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[Editor's note: The numbers listed reflect the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state health departments. The total number of cases and deaths for each disease in 2015 may be higher.]

1. Bubonic Plague

Each year, people still get the bubonic plague, or "Black Death," which killed about 60% of Europe's population in the 14th century. The CDC reports a median of three cases each year in the U.S., but between April and August of 2015, there were 11 cases. Then, in October, the CDC reported to CNN that there were four more cases and a total of four deaths in the U.S. So we're talking at least 15 cases in 2015 so far of bubonic plague, guys.

The plague is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis, and transmitted from infected fleas through bites to an animal or human. Treatment includes antibiotics and must be administered very early, because the disease can rapidly become fatal — the death rate is 30–60%. It generally occurs in rural areas, and the U.S. cases are clustered in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, California, and Arizona.

2. Dengue Fever

Mosquito bites are never fun, especially when they come with a weird infectious disease called dengue fever. Dengue is a mosquito-born illness caused by the dengue virus. In 2015 so far, Hawaii officials have confirmed at least 153 cases of dengue on the Big Island, which was a major outbreak for the U.S. There was also a spike of over 58,000 cases in Vietnam and over 41,000 cases with 195 deaths in Taiwan, the island's deadliest outbreak yet.

Dengue causes flulike symptoms with a fever, rash (pictured above), and joint pain. There's no specific treatment or vaccine, but with supportive care (rest, fluids, and acetaminophen), it usually goes away on its own. However, it can also turn into a serious and fatal condition called dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF).

3. Leprosy

Leprosy is another one of those diseases that sound like they literally came back from the dead. However, in 2015 there were nine cases of leprosy in Florida, which usually has between two and twelve cases each year. The outbreak was speculated to be caused by land development and construction, which forced armadillos (natural carriers of the disease) into contact with people.

The disease is often spread to humans from contact with the blood or feces of armadillos, which are the only known animal to share the unique strain of bacteria that causes the disease with humans. Luckily, it isn't too hard to stay away from armadillos, and leprosy is a relatively rare disease that infects less than 100 people in the U.S. each year.


4. Chikugunya

Nsaa / Wikicommons / Via

Another reason you should avoid mosquitoes: In 2015, chikungunya became a nationally notifiable condition in the U.S., with a total of 629 cases in 43 states and 202 cases in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. All the cases were travel-associated, most likely from infected areas in Asia and Africa.

Chikungunya is a viral disease transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It can cause a high fever, muscle and joint pain, and headaches, but it is not fatal. However, long-term infection with chikungunya can result in chronic illness and disability. The good news is that if you recover, you can never get the disease again. Still, load up on bug spray when you travel, and avoid mosquitos like the actual plague.

5. Ebola

European Commission DG ECHO CC BY-NC-ND / Via Flickr: 69583224@N05

Guessing you've heard of this one. Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a deadly virus spread through blood and bodily fluids from infected humans or animals, and it can cause severe hemorrhaging often resulting in death. The 2014 outbreak in West Africa was the worst in history and the first-ever epidemic, causing a total 20,171 cases and 7,890 deaths — including four cases and one death in the U.S. So far in 2015, there have been at least 8,469 cases and 3,426 deaths — which is a decrease from last year, but still super high for the past 40 years.

Ebola has largely declined and the epidemic is now under control, but the threat of the virus and need for rapid emergency response in affected areas is still high. In October and November, three new cases were reported in Liberia following seven new cases in Guinea — which were previously in the first phase of being declared Ebola-free, and are now under increased surveillance. Fortunately, there's a promising Ebola vaccine undergoing clinical trials.

6. Tuberculosis

The World Health Organization announced in 2015 that TB now kills over 1 million people each year, more than HIV/AIDS. In December 2015, a hospital in California announced that a nurse in its newborn nursery tested positive for TB, leading to possible exposure to 350 babies (as well as parents and employees), who must take preventive antibiotics, a hospital spokesperson reported to CNN. There was also an outbreak of 71 individuals in El Paso, Texas, and 27 students at a Kansas high school.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. Not everyone with the bacteria gets sick — it can live in the body and be harmless (latent TB), or become active and cause sickness (TB disease). TB disease usually affects the lungs, causing a bad cough (sometimes with blood), chest pain, weakness, and fever, but it can also spread to the kidneys, spine, or brain. It's treated with an intense course of antibiotics for six to nine months, but if left untreated it can become fatal.

7. Measles

Dr. Heinz F. Eichenwald / CDC / Wikicommons / Via

In 2015 so far, there have been five outbreaks and 189 cases of measles in the United States, most of them linked to an infected traveler at a Disneyland park in California. The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated (here are nine charts that help explain measles outbreaks). The total cases in 2015 are actually less than half the cases in 2014, but it's still a significant increase since the U.S. declared that measles was eliminated in 2000.

Measles, also called rubeola, causes a fever, runny nose, sore throat, and rash all over the body. It's a highly contagious disease spread through coughing and sneezing. There's no specific treatment, and it usually goes away within three weeks, but in vulnerable and malnourished people it can cause pneumonia, swelling of the brain, blindness, or even death. Luckily, there is a vaccine to protect us against measles, which most of us get when we are babies. But due to a growing number of people going unvaccinated, measles still remains a threat.


8. Pertussis (Whooping Cough)

This year there was a major outbreak of pertussis in the state of Washington, where a total of 1,354 cases were reported, compared with 446 last year. However, there are an estimated 16 million cases each year around the world. Whooping cough is a highly contagious respiratory tract infection that causes a severe, painful cough that can last for up to 10 weeks or longer. It affects all ages, but it can be especially serious and life-threatening in young children and babies.

Similar to measles, there is a vaccine (Tdap) to prevent pertussis that most people get as a baby. However, the growing number of unvaccinated individuals may have allowed the disease to spread among unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals, who can still get a less severe form of pertussis.

9. Typhoid

Charles N. Farmer / CDC / Wikicommons / Via

In 2015, there were outbreaks in Uganda and Malaysia, where thousands of people fell ill. Typhoid is a disease caused by bacteria, which people usually get from water or food contaminated from an infected person. It causes fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and a rash called "rose spots" (pictured above). The WHO estimates 21 million cases and 220,000 deaths from typhoid worldwide each year, most often in highly populated areas of South Asia.

There is a vaccine to prevent typhoid, but it's often not available to those who need it in low-income countries with poor sanitation and lack of clean water, so the disease is re-emerging.

10. Cholera

Cholera is like getting the runs on warp speed, and it's actually really dangerous, especially among children. In 2015 there were over 19,000 cases in Democratic Republic of Congo, 8,835 cases in Mozambique, and outbreaks in other East African countries and in Iraq. The worst was in Haiti, which saw more than 21,000 cases, all part of an ongoing outbreak since 2010 that marks the worst cholera epidemic in recent history.

Cholera is a highly infectious disease caused by ingesting water contaminated with Vibrio cholerae bacteria. While 80% of people who ingest the bacteria don't develop any symptoms, 20% of people develop acute water diarrhea and severe dehydration that can easily become fatal if untreated.

11. Legionnaires' Disease

Legionnaires' is like one of those crazy diseases from an episode of House. You can get it from inhaling legionella bacteria from contaminated air-conditioning vents. The cooling towers, which sit on the roofs of large buildings and hotels, can malfunction so the normally cold water inside becomes warm and untreated, allowing bacteria to grow. This year there were 143 cases in the Bronx and 16 deaths, all in older individuals with pre-existing health problems.

Legionnaires' is basically a severe form of pneumonia which causes inflammation of the lungs and a flu-like illness. It is usually treated with antibiotics but if left untreated, it can become fatal — especially in adults over 50 or chronic smokers with lung problems. The good news is that Legionnaires' can be controlled quickly once the source is found, and it's a relatively rare outbreak.

12. Bird Flu

USAID Asia CC / Via Flickr: usaidasia

OK, so the bird flu didn't have a huge outbreak among people this year, but it did infect a lot of birds and even caused panic over turkey prices this past Thanksgiving. There were four waves of the avian flu this year that caused outbreaks among poultry and wild birds in 21 states in America. There have been a total of 143 cases of avian flu in humans this year, and 42 deaths, mostly in Egypt — which is still a pretty big increase from last year.

Avian influenza — (H7N9) or (H5N1) — is a type of influenza A that comes from waterfowl and domestic poultry, where it can basically spread silently because it causes no symptoms or illness in birds. It can only spread to humans from birds, and it causes a severe flu with increased respiratory distress and nausea. The good news is that the virus has not mutated to be able to pass from human to human and cause serious illness — which would be super dangerous and probably turn the world into a real life Contagion situation. But scientists are closely monitoring the avian flu and working on a vaccine to prevent the disease entirely.