2015 has been a unique year in the United States, especially from a disease standpoint. As of today, the U.S. has confirmed 16 cases of the plague, while recent figures have revealed overseas in the UK, Old World diseases like scurvy and scarlet fever are also on the rise.
It is hard to believe that despite the changes to our living conditions and the development of medicines and treatments, the only disease we’ve been able to successfully eradicate is smallpox. That means that, believe it or not, some often-forgotten diseases still exists despite our greatest efforts to control them.
And they are…
Historically known as the Black Death and its destruction of nearly 60% of the European population in the 14th century, the plague is spread by fleas living on rodents. While here in the United States the plague is confirmed on average just a few time each year, it is far more persistent elsewhere, particularly in Madagascar, Peru and India.
A virus that is passed to babies in the womb from unvaccinated mother, rubella can cause multiple birth defects as well as fetal death when contracted by women during pregnancy. Rubella vaccinations were first made available in 1970, and many developed countries are close to eliminating the disease.
This contagious disease that is associated with banishment is transmitted by prolonged contact with infected people. Causing nerve and skin cell damage, leprosy is infamously known for leaving its victims with disfiguring sores and permanent disabilities.
Leprosy treatment received its first breakthrough in 1945 with the drug dapsone. The bacteria soon became resistant which led to the development of a multidrug therapy in the 1970s. Of the 216,000 cases that were reported worldwide in 2013, 80% of cases occur in Brazil and Indonesia.
Known also as pertussis, whooping cough is an airborne infection that swells the airways. It causes intense coughing and is particularly serious for infants. Widespread vaccination in the US reduced new infections by 80% since reports of 200,000 cases in the 1940s. It is a different story globally however, where 16 million cases occurred in 2008, killing 195,000 children.
Known less commonly as the White Plague, TB became infamous for its ravaging of 18th-century Europe. Today it is the world’s biggest infectious killer, beating out HIV. More than 9,400 people were infected in the US in 2014 while globally TB killed an estimated 1.5 million people in 2013 and an additional 9 million developed the disease.