Ebola Outbreak: 12 Things You Didn't Know About Deadly Diseases

By Spencer Hart on at

Ebola is one of the world's deadliest diseases. The current Ebola outbreak is the worst in history, with over 900 dead this year and no cure or vaccine. If you're fascinated by the sickening details of global illness, here are 12 things you might not have known about sickness and disease (hypochondriacs may not want to read on).

1.) Ebola first appeared as recently as 1976

It was in 1976 that two simultaneous outbreaks of Ebola Virus Disease occurred: one in Nzara, Sudan; the other appearing in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The outbreak that happened in Yambuku was within proximity of the Ebola river, giving the virus its name. Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of Ebola. [Image Credit: Newscastmedia]


2.) At one time we believed illness was caused by bad smells

Known as the miasma theory, from Ancient Greece until the 1800s, we believed that 'bad air' or 'night air' was responsible for diseases such as cholera, chlamydia and the black death. This theory was eventually displaced in the 19th century by the discovery of germs. [Image Credit: Shutterstock]


3.) Alexander Fleming predicted the rise of superbugs

A multiresistant bug or 'superbug' is a virus which has developed an immunity to antibiotics. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, said:

"The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non‐lethal quantities of the drug, making them resistant.

Here is a hypothetical illustration: Mr. X. has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin. He then infects his wife. Mrs. X gets pneumonia and is treated with penicillin. As the streptococci are now resistant to penicillin the treatment fails. Mrs. X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs. X's death?"

[Image Credit: Alex Shaikh Dot Com]


4.) If you want to kill bacteria on your hands, the water would have to be around 80 degrees centigrade

When we wash our hands it's customary to go straight to the hot tap, but unless your tap dispenses near-boiling water, you might as well be using the cold. It's not the temperature of the water which affects the amount of bacteria, but the vigorousness of the scrubbing. [Image Credit: Shutterstock]


5.) If you have gum disease, the chances of developing heart disease doubles

Several studies have shown a link between gum disease and heart disease, with some suggesting that contracting gum disease doubles your chances of developing heart disease. Although no direct cause-and-effect relationship has been proven yet, doctors will still treat gum disease before heart surgery. So kids, flossing is good for your heart as well as your teeth! [Image Credit: JFraser Flickr]


6.) Europeans killed 95 per cent of Native Americans with disease

Approximately 20 million people lived in what is now America before the Europeans arrived, but 95 per cent of these were killed by alien diseases. But why weren't Europeans almost wiped out by American diseases? Put simply, we had better immune systems, from constant contact with animals and frequent migration around Europe. [Image Credit: Wikimedia]


7.) The word rabies originates from the Latin term 'to rage'

Rabies is a viral disease that causes inflammation in the brain of warm-blooded animals. Symptoms of the disease include violent movement, uncontrolled excitement and fear of water. Globally 90 per cent of cases are caused by dog bites, with 95 per cent of cases occurring in Asia. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


8.) You've probably had herpes

Think you've never had herpes? Well if you've had chickenpox, you're wrong. Most people are familiar with the two sexually transmitted forms of the disease: oral herpes and genital herpes. But there are actually 25 known viruses that fall into the Herpes family, and chickenpox is one of them.

Bonus Fact: The average number of blisters on a person infected with chickenpox is 300-400. [Image Credit: Wikimedia]


9.) A vial of smallpox was unknowingly left unmonitored in a fridge for 40 years

On 8th May 1980, The World Health Assembly declared that the world was free from smallpox. Although the disease has been completely eradicated, the virus hasn't: it's being kept in two internationally agreed laboratories; the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, US, and the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Koltsovo, Russia. Much to the surprise of everyone, on 8th July 2014, six vials of smallpox were found at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Washington. They were tested, then quickly destroyed. [Image Credit: ModVive]


10.) Typhoid Mary spent almost 30 years in forced isolation

Mary Mallon, or Typhoid Mary as she's more commonly known, was responsible for infecting 51 people with typhoid as she moved across America working as a cook. Mary was the first identified asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, meaning she carried the disease without showing any symptoms. She infected several different families and killed three people, until one family hired a researcher who revealed Mary to be the cause of the outbreak. Mallon was then quarantined for three years, released for five, then quarantined again for 23 years. [Image Credit: HomeSchoolFreebie]


11.) Half of the people that ever lived have been killed by mosquitoes

It's estimated that mosquitoes, which spread malaria and other diseases, are responsible for half of the deaths in human history. I feel this fact may be a contentious one, so here are a few sources: Nature, Wellcome Collection  and The National Center for Biotechnology Information. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


12.) The German disease, French disease, Polish disease, Italian disease and English disease are all the same disease: syphilis

Syphilis was first recorded in Europe in 1495; there was no official name for the disease until 1530. It was commonplace to name it after your enemy, so it was called the 'French Disease' by Italy, Poland and Germany, the 'Italian Disease' by France, the Dutch called it the 'Spanish Disease' and the Russians called it the 'Polish Disease'. It was Tahiti that took a particular disliking to the English, and therefore referred to it as the 'English Disease'. This was used as an early form of propaganda, portraying your enemy as immoral and untrustworthy. [Image Credit: EScienceCommons]

[Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock]