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10 Serious Infectious Diseases That Will Make You Shudder

Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Mar 26, 2018.

1. Influenza is a Killer disease - Literally

Every year, hundreds die from flu - a preventable disease. In fact, in the most recent 2017-2018 flu season, more than 133 flu-related deaths in children have already been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), compared to 85 pediatric deaths in the 2015-2016 season.

Deaths linked with influenza are often due to complications like pneumonia of the lungs, 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 or 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 damage (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
  • multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure), and sepsis, possibly leading to death.

2. Gonorrhea: The Year-Round Affliction

Unlike flu, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) do not have a season - they are prevalent year-round and worldwide.

Gonorrhea from Neisseria gonorrhoeae is a common STD. Gonorrhea can infect both males and females, and affects the urethra, rectum or throat. In females, gonorrhea can also infect the cervix. Symptoms may include painful or burning urination, pus discharge from penis in men or vaginal discharge in women, pain in testicles, and painful sex.

Gonorrhea is most commonly spread during sex. But babies can be infected during childbirth if their mothers are infected. In babies, gonorrhea most commonly affects the eyes.

In 2016, over 468,000 U.S. gonorrhea cases were reported with an estimated rate of 146 gonorrhea cases per 100,000 population. Adults are treated with antibiotics, but drug resistance has become a major concern.

Due to emerging resistance, the CDC recommends the first-line gonorrhea treatment as:

  • injectable ceftriaxone, 250 mg as a single intramuscular (IM) dose
  • plus either azithromycin (Zithromax), 1 gram orally in a single dose (preferred), or doxycycline (Monodox, Vibramycin) -- in the case of azithromycin allergy -- 100 mg orally twice daily for 7 days.

These therapies are highly effective in treating gonorrhea with limited side effects.

Two other antibiotic regimens use existing drugs in combo:

Both regimens are close to 100% effective, but effect on treatment of rectal or pharyngeal infection is not full documented. Either of these regimens might be considered as alternative treatment options in the presence of cephalosporin allergy, but gastrointestinal effects (nausea, vomiting) might limit success in some patients.

Monotherapy with azithromycin is no longer recommended due to concerns with resistance and treatment failures.

3. Salmonella Leads to Acute Gastroenteritis

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

Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces, but thorough cooking will kill Salmonella.

Every year 1.2 million U.S. cases of salmonellosis, with 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths occur, according to CDC estimates from 2018.

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

In Feb. 2018, the CDC and FDA were investigating a multistate outbreak of 28 salmonella poisoning cases in 20 U.S. states linked to kratom use. Kratom is a herbal dietary supplement that has become popular in the U.S. as a pain treatment and to help boost energy. The CDC is urging Americans to avoid kratom, considered to have opioid-like effects, due to the salmonella threat.

4. 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. The vaccines (Bexsero and Trumenba) are for use in adults up to 25 years old; be sure your teen visits the doctor to discuss this, especially before they are off to college.

5. 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 historical, severe outbreak of EV-D68 in 2014 made headlines. This was the first documented nationwide outbreak of EV-D68. 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. The CDC notes that they can’t predict whether EV-D68 will be a common type of enterovirus detected this year or in future seasons.

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

If you’re a baby-boomer in the U.S. -- that is, born from 1945 to 1965 -- you’ve probably heard about hepatitis C virus (HCV) testing. If you were born in this time frame, you are 5 times more likely to have HCV. The CDC recommends everyone born from 1945 to 1965 get tested for hepatitis C. Plus, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for HCV infection in persons at high risk for infection as well as offering a one-time screening for adults born between 1945 and 1965.

As a chronic, blood-borne disease, HCV slowly damages the liver leading to cirrhosis, liver cancer or transplant, and possible death. Blood transfusions, sharing needles, body piercing or tattoos, are rarely, sexual transmission, may be the cause of HCV. To complicate matters, symptoms of HCV may not appear for up to 30 years. According to the CDC, more than one million people living with hepatitis C do not know they are infected.

Antiviral oral treatment regimens, such as:

lead to HCV cures in many patients, but is linked with a significant cash cost in the tens of thousands of dollars per treatment regimen. If you have insurance, be sure to check with them before making a final decision on a treatment regimen with your doctor. If you don't have insurance, look into patient assistance programs from the manufacturer.

7. HIV and AIDS: Still a Threat

The HIV/AIDS virus has been around since 1981, and it’s gravity may often be forgotten or simply ignored.

But the numbers don't lie: in 2015, the most recent year for which data 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 are still a threat: in 2016, 39,782 people received an HIV diagnosis. The good news? The annual number of HIV diagnoses declined 5% between 2011 and 2015.

Plus - 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 to successful treatment, so if you are not sure of your status, get tested.

8. MERS-CoV: The Largest Risk With Travel to the Arabian Peninsula

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 probably 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. Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against MERS, but research is ongoing.

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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Chikungunya transmission has been documented in 45 countries throughout the Americas with more than 1.7 million suspected cases reported to the Pan American Health Organization. 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. Dying from chikungunya is rare. No treatment exists, but a vaccine is under development.

How to protect yourself against mosquitoes? DEET-based insect repellents worn during the day (when these types of mosquitos are most active) can help repel them, plus bed nets, long sleeves and pants, and permethrin spray on your clothing and gear are recommended.

As a reminder, pregnant women should not travel to areas with risk of Zika.

Finished: 10 Serious Infectious Diseases That Will Make You Shudder

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