Ebola is far from the deadliest disease to ever reach US shores – we look at five others currently or recently observed in the US with higher fatality rates
More than 100 Americans in Dallas could have been exposed to the deadly strain of Ebola currently sweeping West Africa, after the first case on United States soil was diagnosed this week.
This strain of the virus, which has killed over 3,000 in west Africa, has a fatality rate of around 55 per cent.
That is not as high as some other strains of the virus, which have approached 90 per cent – in fact, part of the reason this strain has been able to spread further than others is that patients carry the virus for longer before they either recover or die – but it still leaves victims statistically more likely to die than not after catching it.
However, Ebola is far from the deadliest disease to ever reach US shores.
A rare but highly lethal disease which sees the nervous system infected by a type of amoeba which can be found in warm, stagnant freshwater including swimming pools and lakes.
Only five people have ever survived the disease, representing a 97 per cent fatality rate.
Infection can occur if contaminated water enters deep into the sinus cavities. There are few symptoms in the first few days of infection beyond a loss of sense of smell, but most of those infected die within 14 days of exposure.
Around 60 cases have been reported since 1975 in the US, though fewer than 300 worldwide in medical history.
The only good news? The amoeba is extremely sensitive to chlorine, so your local swimming pool is safe.
Distribution of the 5 strains of rabies virus and the associated wildlife in the United States.
Rabies is still present in all parts of the world except for Japan, parts of Western Europe and Australasia, and Antarctica, killing 55,000 annually.
Spread by bites or scratches from infected animals, the disease in nearly always fatal once symptoms develop, typically one to three months after infection.
The US had between one and eight cases each year over the last decade, many of which involved people infected abroad before returning home.
However, a range of animals found in the US can also spread the disease, including bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes and even groundhogs.
Anthrax used to kills hundreds of thousands around the world every year. However, the vaccine developed by Louis Pasteur has seen this vastly diminish. The disease – usually picked up by grazing animals from spores of bacteria in the soil – is now very rare in domestic animals and humans.
The most dangerous form, inhalational anthrax, was known as “woolsorters’ disease” due to the risk of inhaling spores suffered by those in the wool trade. Without treatment, only about 10 – 15% of patients with inhalation anthrax survive.
The last fatal case of natural inhalational anthrax in the United States occurred in California in 1976, when a home weaver died after working with infected wool imported from Pakistan.
Despite this, fears remain that the highly weaponisable bacteria could be used in a terror attack, as occured in 2001 when letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news media offices and two Democratic US senators, killing five people and infecting 17 others.
World distribution of plague, 1998. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Ga.
We all remember this from school history lessons – the 14th-century Black Plague was just one of three global pandemics in history, which have collectively killed up to 200 million people.
But it is still around, even in developed countries – from 1990-2005, a total of 107 cases of plague were reported in the United States.
Mortality from pneumonic plague approaches 100 per cent when untreated, while some strains of bubonic plague can be as high as 70 per cent.
New research this week has claimed the first ever case of the HIV/AIDS pandemic can be traced to Kinshasa in the DR Congo in the 1920s. Since then it has spread across the world infecting some 75 million people and killing 36 million of them.
It is hard to put an exact figure on mortality as treatments vary substantially around the world and are constantly developing, while many die years or even decades after infection from HIV-related diseases, but the below graph shows how life expectancy falls among patients before and since the development of antiretroviral therapy (HAART).
Changes in survival of people infected with HIV as therapies have become more aggressive
However, the Control of Communicable Diseases Manual puts the case fatality rate among those untreated in a developed country at 80 to 90 per cent in the first five years.
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