Probably one of the most famous diseases ever because of its now basically total elimination from the world, smallpox is a virus spread through human contact. The vaccine was so successful that in 1980 the World Health Organization stopped recommending that people use it. Some nations, however, fear that the little remaining smallpox there is will be used as a method of bioterrorism.
Most people know about polio because of elementary school studies on vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk (props, dude) but the infection left untreated leads to paralysis and sometimes death. It doesn’t have a cure, but the vaccine has prevented the disease from spreading in most countries. “The eradication of polio from the western hemisphere is among the most significant public health achievements of all time,” says the CDC, “but victory over polio cannot be claimed until the entire world is made safe from the disease….”
Measles is a virus that grows in cells in the lungs, which causes cold-like symptoms and can lead to pneumonia. Today, measles has low rates in the United States (despite a Super Bowl outbreak people freaked out about in 2012) but there are 20 million cases worldwide and about 150,000 deaths a year, over half of which are in India.
4. Yellow fever
Yellow fever is still found in South America and Africa, and is spread through mosquitos. It can eventually lead to liver disease but there is a vaccine for people who are traveling in those areas and are at risk. Oh and the reason it’s called yellow fever is that in severe cases, people turn yellow (better known as jaundice).
Malaria starts with a parasite but, like yellow fever, is spread through mosquitos, manifesting in flu-like symptoms. The CDC reports that in 2010, there were 216 MILLION cases of malaria around the world, most of them concentrated in Africa. In the United States there are about 1,500 cases a year. Once infected, there are antimalarial drugs available – as well as medication that can be taken before traveling to high-risk areas – but no vaccine.
6. Typhoid fever
Typhoid fever is caused by a bacteria spread through food or beverages. There’s a vaccine and treatment available through antibiotics but in the U.S. there are still around 400 cases a year. In the rest of the world, 21.5 million people are infected a year. You probably know about it because of the infamous Typhoid Mary.
7. Whooping cough
Whooping cough (as it is commonly known) is actually really called pertussis. It can be prevented by vaccine, though that’s not always completely effective. It manifests a lot like it sounds like it does – through a lot of coughing, often leading to pneumonia. There were 18 deaths in the United States in 2012, out of over 41,000 cases, the majority of which were in young children.
8. Pneumococcal disease
It’s not the uncommonly heard of Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria that’s the problem – it’s what it leads to. The disease can develop into pneumonia and meningitis, both of which can be deadly. In the United States there are “about 4000 cases of blood stream infections (bacteremia), meningitis, or other invasive disease in children younger than 5 years of age” a year. There’s a vaccine that was approved for widespread use in 2000.
9. Tuberculosis (TB)
Tuberculosis, or TB as it is more commonly called, is caused by a bacteria that likes to attack the lungs. It can be treated with medication and people are vaccinated in parts of the world where TB is more of a threat. In the early 1900s, one out of every seven people died from TB – in fact, it was once the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Diphtheria is a respiratory illness that can turn into neck swelling (ew). There hasn’t been a case in the United States for ten years, but before the vaccine was created in the 1920s there were about “100-200 cases per 100,000 population.” There was a big resurgence of the disease in the Soviet Union from 1990 to 1994 and there are still cases in developing countries.
It wasn’t until 1995 that the invention of a chickenpox vaccine prevented children from itching – about 4 million a year – and death for around 100 in the United States. Shingles comes from that same chickenpox virus staying dormant in the body since childhood and cropping up again in the elderly. There are multiple antiviral medications that treat it and there is a shingles vaccine recommended for people over 60.
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