In today’s climate, we get a lot of questions from teachers and students on pathogens and diseases. In order to help, we’ve put together a list of some of the more unique and well known diseases and defined them for you.
So, what are the Historical Diseases and how do we define them? Today it is their actual definitions, that we’re going to talk about at The Researcher’s Gateway? When we teach about the different diseases that have made history throughout the years, it is easy to forget to go over the very basics.
To help with that, we’ve created a series of blog posts giving brief descriptions of them. Most of these diseases have had significant historical impact, including epidemics or pandemics. Several of them came at times of great discovering within the medical community. We will also over the next months, be exploring some of the famous figures of medicine that had great impact on these diseases.
AIDS, a viral disease, spreads through bodily fluids that destroy key parts of the immune system.
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) leaves the patient vulnerable to secondary infections. There is no vaccine for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, so the only prevention is through avoidance behaviors. This means using condoms, never reusing needles, screening blood for transfusions, using gloves when treating patients, and generally being careful about handling and disposing of potentially contaminated objects. It can be treated, however, with Antiretroviral Therapy (ART). ART doesn’t cure AIDS, but it effectively suppresses the virus, especially when the person is diagnosed with HIV before it develops into AIDS.
First discovered in 1981, this disease was highly stigmatized in part because it was frightening and in part because of its association with homosexuals/bisexuals.
Famous and Important Persons and Events
- Freddie Mercury of the band Queen died from this disease on 24 November 1991
- The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, held on Easter Monday, 20 April 1992, both celebrated Freddie Mercury’s life and raised funds and awareness for AIDS. The remaining Queen members and their manager used the profits from the concert to fund the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity organization for raising AIDS awareness.
Cholera is a severe diarrheal disease caused by a bacteria in contaminated food or water.
Cholera is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. Today, it most often occurs in places with poor sanitation and lack of safe drinking water. It can also survive in coastal waters. As a result, people can catch cholera from eating raw or undercooked shellfish. Severe cases cause excessive, watery diarrhea and vomiting, leading to extreme dehydration and shock. Untreated, it can quickly kill a person.
Famous and Important Persons and Events
- US President James K. Polk died from this disease.
- Dr. John Snow discovered how Cholera transmitted to the population during the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak in London.
Coronaviruses,a family of viruses named for their crown-like membranes, are covered with protein spikes.
Coronaviruses are RNA viruses. They are most commonly found in animals, such as cattle and bats. Occasionally, however, they spread to infecting humans as well. They cause upper respiratory infections ranging from mild to severe. Older coronaviruses are relatively mild. They are some of the hundreds of viruses that cause the common cold. The more recent strains, however, are much more serious, and often deadly.
There are three well known strains of the coronavirus that have impacted the modern world.
- SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1) is an acute respiratory infection caused by a coronavirus and identified in 2003.
- COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease – 2019, SARS-CoV-2) is a new, deadly virus in the coronavirus family.
- MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, MERS-CoV) is an acute respiratory infection that originated in the Middle East in 2012.
Diphtheria is caused by a bacteria that destroys the tissues of the respiratory system.
Diphtheria causes weakness, sore throat, swollen glands, and fever. The bacteria, Corynebacterium diphtheria, makes a toxin that kills off the tissue lining the nose, throat, voice box, and tonsils. This causes a build up, in a matter of 2 or 3 days, of a thick, grey layer of dead tissue called “pseudomembrane.” This layer makes it hard for the patient to swallow and breathe. If the toxin gets into the bloodstream, it can also damage other organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and nerves.
It typically spreads through coughing or sneezing respiratory droplets. It is also possible to catch it from touching the open sores of someone with diphtheria. Today, vaccines significantly reduce suffering and deaths from Diphtheria. In countries with low vaccination levels, it continues to be a problem.
- Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleaveland, and James Garfield all had children who died from diptheria.
Ebola is a rare, deadly disease that damages organs, the immune system, and reduces the blood’s ability to clot.
Ebola, a viral disease, is caused by one of four different strains of Ebola viruses. It most likely crosses over from animals to humans. People catch Ebola from being in contact with the skin or bodily fluids of an infected person or animal. This includes handling things like clothing or bedding that has been contaminated with bodily fluids. Ebola causes fever, body aches, headaches, abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting. Eventually, it breaks down the blood’s ability to clot, causing both internal and external bleeding.
Ebola is an extremely dangerous disease, with a fatality rate averaging 50% (WHO 2020). In December 2016, Public Health Agency of Canada developed a vaccine for the Zaire ebolavirus. Trials continue to be tested for other variants of Ebola. In the meantime, prevention relies on reducing exposure to potentially infected animals and precautions taken while tending the sick and burying the dead.
Influenza is a respiratory illness that causes fever, coughing, a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, body aches, headaches, and acute fatigue.
Influenza, also called the Flu or the Grippe, is caused by a family of viruses that mutate frequently. Depending on the strain, they cause a respiratory infection that ranges from mild to serious, sometimes life threatening. Transmitted easily from person to person, it spreads through infected droplets dispersed into the air when a person sneezes, coughs or talks. Worldwide, influenza results in 3-5 million hospitalizations a year and between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths. While we do have antivirals that help reduce the severity of influenza, yearly vaccinations are the best way currently to reduce the impact of influenza.
The most famous pandemic of this disease happened from 1918-1920. This major flu epidemic was caused by an H1N1 strain of Influenza, sometimes called the Spanish Flu. It infected an estimated 500 million people world wide–roughly ⅓ of the total population at the time–and resulted in at least 50 million deaths. It had an estimated fatality rate between 10 and 20%. This flu killed more people in a single year than died in the four years of Black Death between 1347 and 1351.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of this series of articles and more on the History of Diseases and Famous Figures in Medical History.
- Disease Definitions: AIDS, Cholera, Coronavirus,Diphtheria, Ebola, and Influenza
- Disease Definitions: Leprosy, Malaria, The Plague, Polio, and Smallpox
- Disease Definitions: Sweating Sickness, Syphilis, Typhus, and Yellow Fever
- Famous figures at the beginning of global healthcare.
- Important accomplishments by Healthcare Workers in Specific Diseases.
- Famous historical figures in research.
- Other famous and familiar names in the history of global healthcare.
- Famous Humanitarians and Philanthropists that have been part of Healthcare.