The Top 10 Worst Diseases

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10. SARS

Severe acute respiratory syndrome is a respiratory disease in humans which is caused by the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). There has been one near pandemic to date, between the months of November 2002 and July 2003, with 8,096 known infected cases and 774 confirmed human deaths (a case-fatality rate of 9.6%) worldwide being listed in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 21 April 2004 concluding report. Within a matter of weeks in early 2003, SARS spread from the Guangdong province of China to rapidly infect individuals in some 37 countries around the world.

Mortality by age group as of 8 May 2003 is below 1% for people aged 24 or younger, 6% for those 25 to 44, 15% in those 45 to 64 and more than 50% for those over 65. For comparison, the case fatality rate for influenza is usually around 0.6% (primarily among the elderly) but can rise as high as 33% in locally severe epidemics of new strains. The mortality rate of the primary viral pneumonia form is about 70%.

As of today, the spread of SARS has been fully contained, with the last infected human case seen in June 2003 (disregarding a laboratory induced infection case in 2004). However, SARS is not claimed to have been eradicated (unlike smallpox), as it may still be present in its natural host reservoirs (animal populations) and may potentially return into the human population in the future.

9. Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis , MTB or TB (short for tubercles bacillus) is a common and in some cases deadly infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis in humans. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. It is spread through the air when people who have active MTB infection cough, sneeze, or spit. Most infections in humans result in an asymptomatic, latent infection, and about one in ten latent infections eventually progresses to active disease, which, if left untreated, kills more than 50% of its victims.

The classic symptoms are a chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss (the last giving rise to the formerly prevalent colloquial term “consumption”). Infection of other organs causes a wide range of symptoms. Diagnosis relies on radiology (commonly chest X-rays), a tuberculin skin test, blood tests, as well as microscopic examination and microbiological culture of bodily fluids. Treatment is difficult and requires long courses of multiple antibiotics. Contacts are also screened and treated if necessary. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in (extensively) multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis. Prevention relies on screening programs and vaccination, usually with Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine.

8. Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever

Ebola is the virus Ebolavirus (EBOV), a viral genus, and the disease Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), a viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF). The virus is named after the Ebola River Valley in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), which is near the site of the first recognized outbreak in 1976 at a mission hospital run by Flemish nuns. It remained largely obscure until 1989 when several widely publicized outbreaks occurred among monkeys in the United States.

The virus interferes with the endothelial cells lining the interior surface of blood vessels and with coagulation. As the blood vessel walls become damaged and destroyed, the platelets are unable to coagulate, patients succumb to hypovolemic shock. Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, while conjunctiva exposure may also lead to transmission. There are five recognized species within the ebolavirus genus, which have a number of specific strains. The Zaire virus is the type species, which is also the first discovered and the most lethal. Electron micrographs show long filaments, characteristic of the Filoviridae viral family.

7. Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease (also known as Parkinson’s, Parkinson disease, or PD) is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that impairs motor skills, cognitive processes, and other functions. The most obvious symptoms are motor-related, including tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, and postural instability. Among other symptoms are autonomic nervous system, sensory and sleep problems. In the advanced stages of the disease, cognitive and behavioral problems, including dementia are common. PD usually becomes apparent around the age of 60, although it can sometimes occur in individuals as young as 20 years of age.

PD is also called “primary parkinsonism” or “idiopathic PD” (meaning having no known cause), although some cases have a genetic origin. Many risk and protective factors have been investigated, showing an increased risk of PD in those exposed to pesticides; and a reduced risk in smokers. Symptoms result from insufficient formation and action of dopamine produced in certain neurons of parts of the midbrain. Pathologically the disease is characterized by the accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein into inclusions called Lewy bodies in neurons. Lewy bodies can only be found through autopsy, so diagnosis is mainly based on symptoms with tests such as neuroimaging being used to confirm diagnosis.

6. Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes—is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyphagia (increased hunger). Other forms of diabetes mellitus include congenital diabetes, which is due to genetic defects of insulin secretion, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, steroid diabetes induced by high doses of glucocorticoids, and several forms of monogenic diabetes.

All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that usually cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM; gastric bypass surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after delivery. Diabetes without proper treatments can cause many complications. Acute complications include hypoglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis, or nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage. Adequate treatment of diabetes is thus important, as well as blood pressure control and lifestyle factors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy body weight.

5. Huntington’s

Huntington’s disease, chorea, or disorder (HD), is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and dementia. It typically becomes noticeable in middle age. HD is the most common genetic cause of abnormal involuntary writhing movements called chorea and is much more common in people of Western European descent than in those from Asia or Africa. The disease is caused by an autosomal dominant mutation on either of an individual’s two copies of a gene called Huntingtin, which means any child of an affected parent has a 50% risk of inheriting the disease. In rare situations where both parents have an affected copy this risk increases to 75%, and when either parent has two affected copies, the risk is 100% (all children will be affected). Physical symptoms of Huntington’s disease can begin at any age from infancy to old age, but usually begin between 35 and 44 years of age. About 6% of cases start before the age of 21 years with an akinetic-rigid syndrome; they progress faster and vary slightly. The variant is classified as juvenile, akinetic-rigid or Westphal variant HD.

The Huntingtin gene normally provides the genetic information for a protein that is also called “Huntingtin”. The mutation of the Huntingtin gene codes for a different form of the protein, whose presence results in gradual damage to specific areas of the brain. The exact way this happens is not fully understood. Genetic testing can be performed at any stage of development, even before the onset of symptoms. This raises several ethical debates regarding the age at which an individual is considered mature enough to choose testing, the right of parents to test their children, and confidentiality and disclosure of test results. Genetic counseling has developed to inform and aid individuals considering genetic testing and has become a model for other genetically dominant diseases.

4. Rabies

Rabies is a viral disease that causes acute encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in warm-blooded animals. It is zoonotic (i.e., transmitted by animals), most commonly by a bite from an infected animal. Rabies is almost invariably fatal if post-exposure prophylaxis is not administered prior to the onset of severe symptoms. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system, ultimately causing disease in the brain and death.

The early symptoms of rabies in people are similar to that of many other illnesses, including fever, headache, and general weakness or discomfort. As the disease progresses, more specific symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of these symptoms.

The rabies virus travels to the brain by following the peripheral nerves. The incubation period of the disease is usually a few months in humans, depending on the distance the virus must travel to reach the central nervous system. Once the rabies virus reaches the central nervous system and symptoms begin to show, the infection is effectively untreatable and usually fatal within days.

3. Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease (AD), also called Alzheimer disease, senile dementia of the Alzheimer type, primary degenerative dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, or simply Alzheimer’s, is the most common form of dementia. This incurable, degenerative, and terminal disease was first described by German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer in 1906 and was named after him. Most often, it is diagnosed in people over 65 years of age, although the less-prevalent early-onset Alzheimer’s can occur much earlier. In 2006, there were 26.6 million sufferers worldwide. Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.

Although the course of Alzheimer’s disease is unique for every individual, there are many common symptoms. The earliest observable symptoms are often mistakenly thought to be ‘age-related’ concerns, or manifestations of stress. In the early stages, the most commonly recognised symptom is inability to acquire new memories, such as difficulty in recalling recently observed facts. When AD is suspected, the diagnosis is usually confirmed with behavioural assessments and cognitive tests, often followed by a brain scan if available.

As the disease advances, symptoms include confusion, irritability and aggression, mood swings, language breakdown, long-term memory loss, and the general withdrawal of the sufferer as their senses decline. Gradually, bodily functions are lost, ultimately leading to death. Individual prognosis is difficult to assess, as the duration of the disease varies. AD develops for an indeterminate period of time before becoming fully apparent, and it can progress undiagnosed for years. The mean life expectancy following diagnosis is approximately seven years. Fewer than three percent of individuals live more than fourteen years after diagnosis.


Acquired immune deficiency syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a disease of the human immune system caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This condition progressively reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and leaves individuals susceptible to opportunistic infections and tumors. HIV is transmitted through direct contact of a mucous membrane or the bloodstream with a bodily fluid containing HIV, such as blood, semen, vaginal fluid, preseminal fluid, and breast milk. This transmission can involve anal, vaginal or oral sex, blood transfusion, contaminated hypodermic needles, exchange between mother and baby during pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or other exposure to one of the above bodily fluids.

AIDS is now a pandemic. As of 2009, AVERT estimated that there are 33.3 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, with 2.6 million new HIV infections per year and 1.8 million annual deaths due to AIDS. In 2007, UNAIDS estimated: 33.2 million people worldwide had AIDS that year; AIDS killed 2.1 million people in the course of that year, including 330,000 children, and 76% of those deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNAIDS 2009 report, worldwide some 60 million people have been infected, with some 25 million deaths, and 14 million orphaned children in southern Africa alone since the epidemic began.

1. Cancer

Cancer is a class of diseases in which a group of cells display uncontrolled growth, invasion that intrudes upon and destroys adjacent tissues, and sometimes metastasis, or spreading to other locations in the body via lymph or blood. These three malignant properties of cancers differentiate them from benign tumors, which
do not invade or metastasize.

Researchers divide the causes of cancer into two groups: those with an environmental cause and those with a hereditary genetic cause. Cancer is primarily an environmental disease, though genetics influence the risk of some cancers. Common environmental factors leading to cancer include: tobacco, diet and obesity, infections, radiation, lack of physical activity, and environmental pollutants. These environmental factors cause or enhance abnormalities in the genetic material of cells.

Cell reproduction is an extremely complex process that is normally tightly regulated by several classes of genes, including oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Hereditary or acquired abnormalities in these regulatory genes can lead to the development of cancer. A small percentage of cancers, approximately five to ten percent, are entirely hereditary.

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