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The 5 Worst Diseases of All Time

Updated on January 29, 2018
K S Lane profile image

K S Lane is a student of pharmacology and has a deep and passionate interest in all kinds of ailments and their cures.

Diseases are often horrifying things. They cause terrible symptoms, physical disfigurement and often death. But they can also be fascinating, which is probably why you clicked on this article. To feed your macabre curiosity I’ve listed below five of the worst diseases known to mankind. Be warned: some of them are the stuff of nightmares.

These are granulomas in an intestinal lymph node that result from Crohn's disease. Know what that means? Yeah, me neither.
These are granulomas in an intestinal lymph node that result from Crohn's disease. Know what that means? Yeah, me neither. | Source

1. Most Infectious: Measles

Measles is a condition that most in first-world counties pay little regard to. Vaccines are widely available and almost completely effective. In the days before the development of the measles vaccine in 1963, however, the disease struck fear into the hearts of people. Measles is so contagious that if one person has it 9 of 10 people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected. Even in the modern world 430 children die from measles and its complications every day. The majority of these children are infants who are too young to be vaccinated, have a severe allergy to one of the components in the shot or have parents that think vaccines are mind control mechanisms made by aliens on Pluto.

Symptoms of measles include a red, spotted rash that spreads across the skin. Yikes.
Symptoms of measles include a red, spotted rash that spreads across the skin. Yikes. | Source

2. Most Painful: Cluster Headache

Cluster Headache is one of the most painful conditions known to mankind. The headaches typically last from 15 minutes to three hours, and are characterised by intense, unilateral (one sided) pain around one eye. About 1 in every 1000 people experience them, and sufferers have described the pain as "feeling like my eye is going to explode" and don’t keep guns in their house for fear that they’ll be driven to suicide when the headaches strike. In summation, it’s a really terrible condition and you definitely don’t want it.

It's been scientifically proven that cluster headaches are caused by tiny demons that stick their hands in people's eyes.
It's been scientifically proven that cluster headaches are caused by tiny demons that stick their hands in people's eyes. | Source

3. Most Deadly: Rabies

New, exotic diseases like Ebola and the Zika virus are often thought to be the most deadly of conditions, but in actuality they don’t hold a candle to the cold efficiency of a disease that’s been around since the 1500s; Rabies. An effective vaccine for the condition was developed in 1885 by Louis Pasteur, but before the days of the vaccine rabies was a death sentence. There are something like 8 to 10 recorded cases of people surviving rabies after infection, meaning that the chances of survival are virtually 0 percent. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate good old Louie; his expert scienceing saved a lot of people from a pretty horrible fate.

A cross section of the rabies virus.
A cross section of the rabies virus. | Source

4. Most Widespread: Hepatitis-B

Hepatitis-B is estimated to affect 2 billion people worldwide, which is approximately one quarter of the population. It’s a liver infection and can cause long term problems like cirrhosis, jaundice, nausea and liver cancer. Thankfully, not all strains of hepatitis-B are lethal, otherwise the world would be 2 billion people fewer. The main concern is for the 350 million people who have the chronic form of the illness, which can be fatal.

Hepatitis B attacks the liver and leads to a condition called cirrhosis, as pictured above.
Hepatitis B attacks the liver and leads to a condition called cirrhosis, as pictured above. | Source

5. Most Gruesome: Leprosy

Given that the majority of diseases are fairly horrific, naming one as the most gruesome is difficult. However, the spine-chilling physical symptoms of leprosy make the disease a good candidate for such a superlative. Suffers of leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, initially experience ulcers, skin lesions and eye damage. In the later stages of the condition larger ulcerations, loss of fingers and toes and facial disfigurement may develop. Poor Hansen. Imagine having your name associated with such a horrible disease.

Leprosy can cause severe facial disfigurement.
Leprosy can cause severe facial disfigurement. | Source

Honourable Mentions

Smallpox: smallpox has wracked up the highest death toll of any disease, claiming 300 million victims. The first vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796. Again, let’s take a moment to thank the scientists for their general braininess.


Chronic diarrhoea: fairly self-explanatory. It’s responsible for killing around 525,000 children every year.


Epidermodysplasia Verruciformis: along with having a very hard to pronounce name, this causes the growth of tree-bark like warts all over the body. The warts can be removed through surgery, but are highly aggressive and grow back over time.


Bubonic plague: this sucker managed to wipe out 60 percent of Europe in less than a decade and causes egg-sized, painful lumps to appear on the body. Not nice.


Necrotising fasciitis: flesh eating bacteria chomp their way through the body’s

soft tissue after infecting a wound. Very not nice. (Don’t google pictures of this one. You’ve been warned).

New diseases to come?

And there you have it, folks; five of the most infectious, painful, deadly, widespread and gruesome disorders and diseases to date. If these aren’t horrible enough for you then fear not, because new viruses and diseases are mutating all the time. In 50 years we may have a new disease that’s even worse than some of these to add to the list! Isn’t that an exciting prospect?

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Sources:

  • http://conditions.health.qld.gov.au/HealthCondition/condition/14/217/91/Measle
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/top-10-deadliest-diseases
  • https://list25.com/25-deadliest-diseases-in-human-history/
  • https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/index.html
  • https://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-b-facts/about-hep-b
  • https://www.migrainetrust.org/about-migraine/types-of-migraine/other-headache-disorders/cluster-headache/
  • https://www.medicinenet.com/leprosy/article.htm

© 2017 K S Lane

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