50 Interesting Facts About Disease Outbreaks

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1Scotland Anthrax Outbreak

There was an outbreak of anthrax in Scotland in 2009-10. With 119 cases and 14 deaths, the outbreak was linked to heroin use. Likely, a single batch of heroin came into contact with an infected animal or contaminated hide somewhere along the heroin smuggling route to Scotland.


2. The black death came in many waves across Europe and the Mediterranean. The major outbreaks were in: 1360–63; 1374; 1400; 1438–39; 1456–57; 1464–66; 1481–85; 1500–03; 1518–31; 1544–48; 1563–66; 1573–88; 1596–99; 1602–11; 1623–40; 1644–54; and 1664–67. Cairo alone was hit more than 50 times.


3. The Legionnaires’ disease is named such because of an outbreak in 1976, which killed 29 and infected 182 American Legion members during an annual state convention. This new bacteria was found to be coming from the air-conditioning units on the hotel roof.


4. Eating food containing uncooked flour can give you food poisoning. Bacteria are killed only when food made with flour is cooked. In 2016 and 2019, two outbreaks of E. coli infections linked to raw flour made more than 80 people sick. One should avoid tasting or eating raw dough or batter.


5. In 1950, the US army dispersed a cloud of bacteria (Serratia marcescens), believed to be harmless, in the San Francisco Bay Area to test whether enemy agents could launch a biological attack from an offshore location. The test resulted in an outbreak of urinary tract infections and one death.


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62010 Haiti Cholera Outbreak

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which killed 200,000 people, UN peacekeepers from Nepal were sent to the country. Sadly, the peacekeepers brought cholera with them leading to a massive outbreak, which infected 800,000 people, and killing at least 9000.


7. Outbreaks of the deadly English sweat occurred from 1485 to 1551. The disease caused profuse sweating and sometimes led to rapid death. The pathogen behind it remains a mystery more than five centuries later. After raging for more than 60 years, the “English sweat” simply vanished. It was confined to England, except in 1528–29, when it spread to the European continent.


8. An outbreak of Syphilis in 16th century Europe caused a surge in Wigmaking. Wigs covered up baldness and head sores caused by Syphilis. Powdered Wigs were popular because the powder contained lavender or orange, to cover up bad smells.


9. In 1999, an improperly set up hot tub at a garden show in Bovenkarspel, Netherlands, caused an outbreak of 206 cases of Legionnaires’ Disease and 32 confirmed deaths. Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by legionella bacteria.


10. The Spanish Flu affected the entire world, killing more than 50 million people. The outbreak was during World War 1 and to keep morale high, wartime censors for many countries minimized it. Papers were free to report its effects in neutral Spain causing many to think it was largely confined to that country.


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11SARS Outbreak

Dr. Carlo Urbani recognized the emergence of an outbreak of pneumonia as a new epidemic and immediately notified the WHO about SARS. He personally flew to Hanoi to investigate. He would die in 2003 of SARS, having triggered the most effective response to an epidemic in history.


12. There was an outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in rural Kentucky in the 1990s which was likely linked to a prion that affected people who ate squirrel brains. Symptoms of the disease include dementia, involuntary movements, blindness, weakness, and coma. About 70% of people die within a year of diagnosis.


13. San Francisco had an outbreak of bubonic plague in 1900–1904 that killed 119 people. While city officials acted quickly to contain it, California Governor Henry Gage covered it up to protect the powerful railroads and other businesses. Some newspapers helped by defaming the city health commissioner.


14. During the first outbreak of The Black Death in France in 1348, cities ran out of consecrated ground to bury the dead in so quickly, that the current Pope, Clement VI, had to bless the entire Rhone river to allow corpses to be legally dumped in it.


15. The Nazis introduced malaria-carrying mosquitos to Italy during World War 2 as revenge after Italy changed sides, causing a 7-year long malaria outbreak in the region.


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16Salmonella Outbreak

The collapse of Aztec society was in part linked to an outbreak of salmonella after the Spanish conquest.


17. The New England vampire panic was the reaction to an outbreak of tuberculosis in the 19th century throughout New England. Tuberculosis was thought to be caused by the deceased consuming the life of their surviving relatives. This is the reason why the old name for TB was “The Consumption” and they also buried their dead face down to try and confuse them if they were to come back.


18. USA’s largest waterborne disease outbreak occurred in 1993 when 1/4 of Milwaukee (403,000 people) developed stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea. The cause was found to be the Cryptosporidium protozoan. The root cause of the epidemic was never officially identified. Initially, it was suspected to be caused by the cattle genotype due to runoff from pastures.


19. In 2016, Russia experienced an outbreak of Anthrax. The spores likely came from an infected deer carcass that had thawed during permafrost melt. Nearly 100 people were hospitalized (1 died) and more than 2,300 reindeers died from anthrax infections.


20. In 1998, there was an outbreak of mass hysteria in East Java, Indonesia, in which the local population believed they were being targeted by sorcerers known as the ‘ninja’, who were blamed for mysterious killings of religious leaders. Over 250 people were lynched in the surrounding area.


21Dancing Plague Outbreak

In 1518, the was an outbreak of the dancing plague in France after a woman started dancing and others joined in. The dancing did not seem to die down for days. There are even reports that some people danced until they died.


22. British Physician John Snow found the cause of cholera during the height of an epidemic. He proved his findings by halting an entire outbreak by removing the infected water pump handle in 1854.


23. During the 1854 London Cholera outbreak, workers at a local brewery near the outbreak were saved because they only drank beer, which protected them from the infected water.


24. The first major outbreak of HIV in the US began in 1970-71 in New York City, a decade before AIDS was first identified, and was spread from a Caribbean outbreak in the 60s. From New York City, a single case from around 1976 then started the outbreak in San Francisco.


25. In 2015, Cornell University ran a simulation of an imaginary Zombie outbreak and found that most of the US population would turn into Zombies within one week from the appearance of the first case, but some remotes areas in Montana and Nevada could remain infection-free for up to one month.

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