8 Historically Terrifying Viruses

Cynthia Goldsmith, CDC // Public Domain
Cynthia Goldsmith, CDC // Public Domain

It seems like a new virus that's trying to kill us pops up somewhere in the world every other day. While the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other health organizations monitor the new coronavirus, officials continue to announce the rapid spread of new COVID-19 infections and deaths around the world.

Despite modern sanitary practices, prevention strategies, and vaccines, there is much to fear from tiny imperialistic pathogens—invisible to all but the most powerful microscopes—that invade our cells to replicate, messing them up like a coke-fueled rock band destroys a hotel room after a concert.

All the hand sanitizer, face masks, and toilet paper in the world can’t save us from some of history’s nastiest viruses and the horrifying diseases they cause in humans. Here are eight of the most dangerous viruses the world has ever seen.

1. Ebola Virus 

Its melodic moniker may roll off the tongue, but if you contract the virus, that's not the only thing that will roll out of your body: you will probably have a disturbing amount of blood coming out of your gums, for instance. Four of the five known Ebola viral strains cause Ebola virus disease (EVD), which has killed thousands of people in sub-Saharan African nations since its discovery in 1976.

The deadly virus is named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where it was first reported, and is classified as a CDC Biosafety Level 4, a.k.a. BSL-4, making it one of the most dangerous pathogens on the planet. It is thought to spread through contact with bodily secretions of infected people. Depending on the virus strain, EVD has an average mortality rate of 50 percent, with a rapid onset of symptoms that start with a headache and sore throat and progress to major internal and external bleeding and multiple organ failure. There’s no known cure, and the most recent cases were reported this year in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

2. Marburg Virus

In 1967, a group of lab workers in Marburg and Frankfurt, Germany, and in Belgrade, Serbia, contracted a new type of hemorrhagic fever from some virus-carrying African green monkeys that had been imported for research and development of polio vaccines. The Marburg virus is also BSL-4, and Marburg hemorrhagic fever has a 23 to 90 percent fatality rate. Spread through close human-to-human contact, symptoms start with a headache, fever, and a rash on the torso, and progress to multiple organ failure and massive internal bleeding. There is no cure, and the latest cases were reported in Uganda in 2014. An American tourist who had explored a Ugandan cave full of fruit bats known to be reservoirs of the virus contracted it and survived in 2008.

3. Hantavirus

Deer mouse
James Maughn, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There are many strains of hantavirus floating around (yep, it’s airborne). Different strains, carried by different rodent species, are known to cause different types of illnesses in humans, most notably hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS)—discovered during the Korean War—and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), which emerged with a 1993 outbreak in the southwestern United States. Severe HFRS causes acute kidney failure, while HPS gets you by filling your lungs with fluid (a.k.a. pulmonary edema). HFRS has a mortality rate of 1 to 15 percent, while HPS’s is 38 percent. The U.S. saw its most recent outbreak of hantavirus, of the HPS variety, at Yosemite National Park in late 2012.

4. Lassa Virus

This BSL-4 virus gives us yet another reason to avoid rodents. Lassa is carried by a species of rat in West Africa called Mastomys natalensis. It’s airborne, at least when you’re hanging around the rat's fecal matter. Humans, however, can only spread it through direct contact with bodily secretions. Lassa fever, which has a mortality rate of 1 percent (among hospitalized patients the rate is from 15 to 50 percent), causes about 5000 deaths a year in West Africa, particularly in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and deafness is its most common lasting symptom. It starts with a fever and some retrosternal (behind the chest) pain and can progress to facial swelling, encephalitis, mucosal bleeding, and deafness. Fortunately, researchers and medical professionals have found some success in treating early-stage Lassa fever with an antiviral drug.

5. Rabies Virus

Rabies has a long and storied history dating back to 2300 BCE in records of Babylonians who went mad and died after being bitten by dogs. While this virus itself is a beast, the sickness it causes is now is wholly preventable if treated immediately with a series of vaccinations (sometimes delivered with a terrifyingly huge needle in the abdomen). We have vaccine inventor Louis Pasteur to thank for that.

Exposure to rabies these days, while rare in the U.S., still occurs as it did thousands of years ago—through bites from infected animals. If left untreated after exposure, the virus attacks the central nervous system and death usually results. The symptoms of an advanced infection include delirium, hallucinations, raging, and violent behavior in some cases, which some have argued makes rabies eerily similar to zombification. If rabies ever became airborne, we might actually have to prepare for that zombie apocalypse after all.

6. Smallpox-Causing Variola Virus

The virus that causes smallpox wiped out hundreds of millions of people worldwide over thousands of years. We can’t even blame it on animals either, as the virus is only carried by and contagious for humans. There are several different types of smallpox disease that result from an infection, ranging from mild to fatal, but it is generally marked by a fever, rash, and blistering, oozing pustules that develop on the skin. Fortunately, smallpox was declared eradicated in 1979, as the result of successful worldwide implementation of a vaccine.

7. Dengue Virus

The leading cause of death in the tropics and subtropics is the infection brought on by the dengue virus, which causes a high fever, severe headache, and, in the worst cases, hemorrhaging. The good news is that it's treatable and not contagious. The bad news is there's no vaccine, and you can get it easily from the bite of an infected mosquito—which puts about 3 billion people at risk. The CDC estimates that there are over 400 million cases of dengue infection and that 100 million people suffer symptoms each year. It's a great marketing tool for bug spray.

8. Influenza Virus

No virus can claim credit for more worldwide pandemics and outbreaks than influenza. The Spanish flu in 1918 is generally considered to be one of the worst pandemics in human history, infecting 20 to 40 percent of the world's population and killing 50 million in the span of just two years. The H1N1 swine flu was its most recent newsmaker, when a 2009 pandemic may have caused between 100,000 and 400,000 deaths worldwide in its first year.

Effective influenza vaccines exist, and most people easily survive infections. But the highly infectious respiratory illness is cunning—the virus is constantly mutating and creating new strains. Thousands of strains exist at any given time, many of them harmless, and vaccines available in the U.S. cover only about 40 percent of the strains each year.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

The World Health Organization Is Releasing a COVID-19 App to Combat Coronavirus Misinformation

WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
WHO MyHealth is meant to help clear up misinformation surrounding the novel coronavirus.
MangoStar_Studio/iStock via Getty Images

As is the case with most crises, the novel coronavirus has become a breeding ground for misinformation. Because the disease is so new, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding it, but that hasn't stopped people from claiming to know how to treat, prevent, and detect COVID-19. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, the World Health Organization (WHO) is launching an app dedicated to sharing what we know and don't know about the virus, 9to5Google reports.

Named WHO MyHealth, the new app is a collaboration between former Google and Microsoft employees, WHO advisors and ambassadors, and other tech and health experts. Users will be able to compare their symptoms with those linked to COVID-19 and receive public health updates specific to their location. As of now, there are plans to invite people who have been either been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 to share their phone's location history to give experts a better idea of how the virus spreads.

WHO MyHealth, which is currently being built as open source, is set to roll out for Android and iOS on Monday, March 30. If you have questions about COVID-19 you need answered immediately, you can also access accurate and up-to-date information through the WHO's chatbot.

Any information regarding novel coronavirus should be met with skepticism when it can't be traced back to organizations like the WHO or the CDC—especially when it comes to supposed cures. No specific medication has been proven to treat or prevent COVID-19, so you shouldn't take advice from anyone claiming otherwise.

[h/t 9to5Google]

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