Ebola And 5 Other Contagious Diseases We Should Dread Coming Back

By now, you've probably seen some terrifying headlines about how the ebola virus is making a comeback. At present, the outbreak is mostly limited to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, with about 700 deaths and 1,300 infections reported. Ebola seemed to many Americans like some old, eradicated disease, so this surprising occurrence combined with a lack of knowledge about the virus has caused excessive alarm.

The good-ish news is that ebola does not spread through the air, but rather through close contact involving bodily fluids (like vomit, waste materials, or at least sweat). The bad news is that, if you want to worry about infectious diseases, there are plenty more where that came from. Here's a wish list of diseases we're hoping won't come back in full force anytime soon.

1. Bubonic Plague

Also known as the "Black Death," the bubonic plague was responsible for 75 million deaths across Europe in the 14th century. Unlike ebola, this efficient little killer does spread through the air ("pneumonically"), as well as by flea or rat bites, making crowded and dirty Europe of the time a bubonic disaster waiting to happen. Although modern sanitation and health care practices have drastically reduced the black death's ability to do damage, it still comes back every once in a while. A Chinese man died of the bubonic plague just last month.

2. Tuberculosis

If you've been reading historical fiction and someone's suffering from "consumption," that's an archaic term for tuberculosis — and it's not pretty. Like the bubonic plague, tuberculosis can spread through the air, made more likely by the way that advanced patients spray huge amounts of bacteria around as their lungs are eaten by colonies of the disease. Although, again, modern sanitation and health care practices have done much to contain and reduce tuberculosis cases, it still comes back from time to time — and some tuberculosis strains remain antibiotic resistant. Remember when this selfish tuberculous patient hopped a plane in 2007, knowing full well that he was infected?

3. Mosquito-Borne Diseases

You might think that malaria and various "tropical fevers" are things of the past, but mosquito-borne diseases are actually a buzzing, biting gift that keeps on giving in a number of countries. Elephantiasis is the name for a disease whose later stages cause extreme, grotesque swelling in the limbs or genitals of those afflicted (Google image search at your own risk, and don't say I didn't warn you). Though the West Nile virus was kind of a bust, an exciting new mosquito-related disease has hit New Jersey, of all places, just this summer. Who knows what other kinds of delightful mosquito-borne diseases we can look forward to as climate change makes more areas hospitable to the pests.

4. Smallpox

Like me, you were probably taught somewhere along the line that defeating smallpox and literally eradicating it in its entirety was a great feat of the American public health system. LOL just kidding, because earlier this summer some scientists found forgotten vials of smallpox hanging around an old storage room at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Although the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia will need to determine whether the smallpox samples in those forgotten vials are even viable, it really makes you wonder what other potentially deadly germs are just hanging around wherever.

5. Polio

Many of us know polio only as the archaic mostly-childhood disease that famously crippled President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1921. Like smallpox, polio (short for "poliomyelitis") was long heralded as an example of the wonders of the American public health system: polio was all but eradicated from the United States by 1979, thanks to highly effective vaccines. However, the disease now seems poised to make an international comeback. Thanks to crackpots who publicly, irresponsibly, and baselessly argue that life-saving vaccines cause autism, polio could be a scourge upon American children once again sometime soon.

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