Skip to Content

10 Serious Infections That Will Make You Shudder

Medically reviewed on Jul 16, 2017 by L. Anderson, PharmD.

Influenza is a Killer disease - Literally

Every year, hundreds die from this preventable disease. In fact, in the 2015-2016 flu season, more than 85 flu-related deaths in children were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Deaths due to influenza are often due to complications like pneumonia, especially in the elderly. If someone in your family has the flu, you have a 25 percent chance of getting it, too.

The flu vaccine is available each year in the fall and the CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine every season. Vaccination to prevent influenza is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications, for example:

  • Pregnant women
  • Patients with lung diseases like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart disease
  • Young children
  • Adults aged 65 years and older
  • Nursing home residents
  • People with certain chronic medical conditions.

Antivirals and flu treatments can help with symptoms. But complications from the flu can be serious and include: pneumonia, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure), and sepsis, possibly leading to death.

Gonorrhea: The Year-Round Affliction

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) do not have a season - they are prevalent year-round and worldwide. Gonorrhea from Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a common STD, with more than 800,000 new U.S. infections occurring each year. Adults are treated with antibiotics, but drug-resistant bacteria have become a concern.

The CDC lists the current first-line gonorrhea treatment as injectable ceftriaxone, 250 mg as a single intramuscular dose, plus either azithromycin, 1 gram orally in a single dose (preferred), or doxycycline, 100 mg orally twice daily for 7 days. This therapy is highly effective in treating gonorrhea with limited side effects.

Two other antibiotic regimens use existing drugs in combo - injectable gentamicin with azithromycin, or oral gemifloxacin with azithromycin. Both regimens are close to 100% effective.

Salmonella Leads to Acute Gastroenteritis

What do chia powder, eggs, and peanut butter all have in common? Salmonella.

Every year one million U.S. cases of salmonellosis, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths occur. Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces, but thorough cooking will kill Salmonella.

Unpleasant symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps occur 12 to 72 hours after infection. The infection typically lasts 4 to 7 days and can clear without meds, but those with severe infections may need hospitalization, fluids, and antibiotic treatment with fluoroquinolones or 3rd generation cephalosporins.

Bacterial Meningitis: Never Far From the Headlines

You’ve probably heard the concerning news reports about meningitis infections occurring on college campuses. It can set fear in a parent quickly. Bacterial meningitis is a rare yet possibly deadly infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Meningitis infection may produce symptoms like a sudden fever, headache, stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing or a rash. There are several types of germs that can lead to bacterial meningitis, and your age group will determine which you are most likely to acquire. For example, college students are more likely to get Neisseria meningitidis or Streptococcus pneumoniae, while newborns are more likely to get Group B Streptococcus. Bacterial meningitis needs to be quickly treated with antibiotics, and vaccines are available for prevention; see your doctor.

Enterovirus D68: Wash Those Hands

Here’s another good reason to wash your hands - enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is from a family of viruses that includes the common cold.

Most people with enteroviruses have mild cold symptoms - fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, muscle aches and wheezing - and recover easily. A severe outbreak of EV-D68 in 2014 made headlines. The CDC documented about 1,150 cases, nearly all in children, but stated that there were likely millions of mild EV-D68 infections for which people didn't seek medical care. Several deaths occurred, but may not be specifically due to EV-D68; and concerns with associated rare paralysis were also reported.

No EV-D68 vaccine or treatment is currently approved.

Chronic Hepatitis C Virus (HCV): Listen Up Baby Boomers

If you’re a baby-boomer in the U.S. - that is, born from 1946 to 1964 - you’ve heard about hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing.

As a chronic, blood-borne disease often acquired through shared needles, HCV slowly damages the liver leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer or transplant, and death. To complicate matters, symptoms of HCV may not appear for up to 30 years. Roughly 3.2 million in the U.S. are infected with HCV, but many remain undiagnosed. Add to that, 15,000 people die from HCV every year.

Antiviral oral treatment regimens, such as:

are expected to cure HCV in most patients, but not without a cost of upwards of $60,000 to $90,000 per treatment regimen.

HIV and AIDS: Still a Threat

The HIV/AIDS virus has been around since 1981, and it’s gravity may be forgotten or simply ignored. But the fact is that AIDS is still a global epidemic. About 36.7 million people are living with HIV around the world, and there were about 2.1 million new cases of HIV in 2015.

At the end of 2014, the most recent year for which this information is available, 1.1 million people in the United States were living with HIV. Of those people, about 15%, or 1 in 7, did not know they were infected. And new infections still occur: roughly 56,000 new cases of HIV infection are diagnosed each year in the U.S.

The good news - after 30 years of dedicated research we have results, and there are now multiple drugs available to treat and prevent HIV. Early diagnosis and HIV therapy can dramatically reduce the risk of HIV advancing to AIDS and lengthen lives; however, early diagnosis is key, so if you are not sure of your status, get tested.

MERS-CoV: More Cases Are Inevitable

The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and remains largely confined to the Middle East. MERS most likely started from an animal source, most likely camels. In fact, you may be at risk if you have been near camels with the virus. The cases seen in the U.S. occurred in healthcare providers who worked in the Middle East. An experimental vaccine is under research to prevent MERS.

MERS can start with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is a common complication, and patients may go into respiratory failure or septic shock. The two cases seen in the U.S. recovered and none of their immediate contacts developed MERS. Luckily, in the U.S., MERS represents a very low risk to the general public.

MRSA: An Antibiotic Resistant Superbug

Fighting antibiotic resistance has been a public health goal for years in the U.S.

MRSA is "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus", one type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the community, MRSA can cause skin and other infections, and can be quite dangerous because it is resistant to many antibiotics.

MRSA infections usually appear as a red, swollen, skin or soft tissue infection with pus and accompanied by a fever. The infection can enter the bloodstream, too. MRSA is contagious if personal items, such as towels or razors that have touched the infected skin, are shared. College athletes may be at a higher risk, and MRSA also can also move quickly through a hospital setting.

Chikungunya: Turning Dream Holidays Into Nightmares

Traveling to the Caribbean is a dream trip for many, but some vacationers have come home with a painful mosquito-transmitted viral disease known as Chikungunya. And in 2017 it was reported that the mosquito species that's the main carrier of the Zika virus might also transmit two other viruses – chikungunya and dengue.

In July 2014, the first U.S.-developed case of Chikungunya was reported in Florida. Chikungunya provokes a painful but seldom fatal illness and is common in Africa, Asia and has recently spread to 19 countries in the Caribbean, according to the CDC.

Chikungunya virus causes high fevers, painful joint swelling, headaches and rash. For some, the pain can last even after other symptoms disappear, but it tends to clear up after a week. No treatment exists, but a vaccine is under development. How to protect yourself? DEET-based insect repellents worn during the day can help repel mosquitos.

Finished: 10 Serious Infections That Will Make You Shudder

Oral Hepatitis C Treatments: The Evolving Landscape

If you're a "baby boomer" - born between 1945 and 1965 - should you be tested for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, a potentially fatal liver disease? Yes, and here's…