Medical The worst disease ever in human history

  1. WHat is the worst and formidable disease ever in human history? Why?
  2. jcsd
  3. mgb_phys

    mgb_phys 8,809
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    In terms of total integral number killed over history it's probably malaria.
    In number killed in one outbreak it's the 1918 Flu epidemic.
  4. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,122
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    As near as I can tell, malaria kills about 1 million people a year; alcohol kills about 1.8 million; tobacco kills about 4 million each year, worldwide.
  5. 1918 influenza

    -killed more people in 1 year than black death was able to over 10 years
    -killed more people in 1 year than the total amount of people combined to date that have died from AIDS
    -infected over 1 billion people
    -depressed the average lifespan age in American by something like 10 years
  6. I'm no expert on this subject but I would say smallpox. It killed 90% of the indigenous people in North and South America after Columbus arrived. Plus many people in Europe, Asia and Africa.
  7. You are so funny.
  8. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,122
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    What is funny about that? In the US, at least, addiction is considered to be a disease.
  9. mgb_phys

    mgb_phys 8,809
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    If you limit it to communicable diseases rather than old age or malnutrition then most diseases are fairly modern in evolutionary terms.
    Smallpox,TB,measles etc are transferred from animals and only appeared in humans when we started living with herds of domesticated livestock say 10,000 years ago.
    Widespread plagues need large concentrations of people living together and long distance trade so only got going 1000 years ago.
    For the first 1-2 million years of human history it was only something flying out of the jungle and biting you that really mattered,
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2007
  10. jim mcnamara

    jim mcnamara 1,563
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    mqb is talking about density-dependent disease transmission. TB is a good example of this. There have been major outbreaks of DD diseases documented way back before Roman times. An excellent work meant for non-scientists is 'Guns, Germs, and Steel' by Jared Diamond. An old book 'Rats lice and History' by Hans Zinsser raised a lot of the questions in this area of enquiry. And has more epidemiological discussion.
  11. Moonbear

    Moonbear 11,955
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    I suspect the OP is referring to infectious disease (i.e. caused by a pathogen), rather than disorders, which technically aren't disease, but are still medical conditions. In common usage, the two are often used synonymously, but in medicine, disease would mean something different from a disorder. The OP will need to clarify on that point.
  12. OmCheeto

    OmCheeto 2,233
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    It has a 100% fatality rate.
  13. -Job-

    -Job- 1,127
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    I don't mind dying of birth.
  14. I heard the worst diseases are heamorrhoids and ebola.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 5, 2008
  15. lol. There is some serious religion/atheist bashing going on which I personally find quite amusing. I'm not going to get involved in it, since the original question was not "which has killed more people... religion or lack of religion".

    With respect to the original question, could genetic diseases/abnormalities not be the largest single killer of humans? I know that they generally only affect a tiny proportion of humans, but given how long they have been around, it may be a contender
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2008
  16. Evo

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    Removed off topic religious discussions.
  17. Ivan Seeking

    Ivan Seeking 12,122
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    I knew that this wasn't just a casual reference so I checked. It seems that the National Institute on Drug Abuse are the ones who promoted the idea that addiction is a disease of the brain - I think along the lines of a genetic disease. But that idea is losing favor.

    Also, this, which is a reply to the article above:

    In the end it seems that this is a political issue as much as a medical one.

    Again, from the first link:
    Is diabetes a disease or a disorder?
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2008
  18. arildno

    arildno 11,265
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    If we are to limit ourselves only to those lethal pandemics that political correctness has allowed to define as such, tuberculosis is as far as I know of still the major killer.

    But mental diseases are far more prevalent, and cause numerous deaths every year.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2008
  19. While NIDA may have influenced this official recognition, alcoholism, has long been considered a disease in many quarters and research based on this assumption has produced some very interesting findings, not the least of which that it is subject to greater genetic influence than say, most cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Addiction is one of the few illnesses I know of where victims are so often incapable of seeling and/or using treatment to their advantage. Certainly, not the only one as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and many forms of psychiatric illness seem to share in common this odd inability to modify behavior for ones benefit.

    In terms of the morbidity and mortality, it does rank near the top, to say nothing of lost productivity and the damage done to others, both directly (1/2 of all violent crimes inclusding homicide I believe are committed under the influence) and indirectly. Curiously the amount of money spent on treatment and resesrch pales in comparison to more glamorous diseases such as cardiovascular--when I last taught medical students on the subject, the outlays were something like 50:1 in favor of the latter.

    Despite the destigmatization that has occurred over the last 20 or so years, there is still a belief, both among the general public as well as health care professionals that the illness is self-inflicted. Yet in all my years of treating addicts I have not met one who chose to become one.
  20. Smoking is still the #1 leading cause of preventable death world wide. Not obesity, not alcholism, not AIDS, not malaria, not TB, not obesity. SMOKING STILL #1.


    The top 3 killers worldwide are

    1.) heart disease
    2.) stroke
    3.) lung cancer.

    Smoking contributes to ALL 3 of the top 3 killers worldwide.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2008
  21. mgb_phys

    mgb_phys 8,809
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    According to the WHO - top 10 causes of death:

    Developed countries:
    Ischaemic heart disease 3,512,000
    Stroke 3,346,000
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 1,829,000
    Lower respiratory infections 1,180,000
    Lung cancer 938,000
    Car accident 669,000
    Stomach cancer 657,000
    High blood pressure 635,000
    Tuberculosis 571,000
    Suicide 499,000

    3rd world:
    HIV-AIDS 2,678,000
    Lower respiratory infections 2,643,000
    Ischaemic heart disease 2,484,000
    Diarrhea 1,793,000
    Cerebrovascular disease 1,381,000
    Childhood diseases 1,217,000
    Malaria 1,103,000
    Tuberculosis 1,021,000
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 748,000
    Measles 674,000

    A bit arguable, since diarrhea is a symptom not a disease and it's a bit arbitrary how you split heart disease.
    In the developed world it would seem that if you stay away from cigs, fast-food and SUVs you will be OK.
    Many of these disease are newcomers or are a result of a more modern lifestyle. Evidence from the number of mutations in the genome to counter it suggests that throughout human evolution malaria has been the big one, upto a couple of hundred years ago it was still one of the biggest killers in Europe. Some estimates suggest that half of all humans who ever lived contracted it!
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2008
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