Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Yellow Fever is an acute RNA viral infection caused by the virus Flaviviridae. It is indigenous to equatorial regions of Africa and South America where mosquitos are the most common vector of transmition. Though there is an effective vaccine against Yellow Fever, many people in the 3rd world countries affected by the illness do not have access to modern health care and, thus, remain succeptible to infection.

The CDC has stated that severe cases of Yellow Fever have a mortality rate of between 15-50%, while the World Health Organization has stated that 15% of those infected with Yellow Fever, enter a "toxic phase" and that 50% of those who enter toxicity die.

The symptoms of Yellow Fever begin 3 to 5 days after the pathogen has entered the body. Symptoms begin suddenly with headache and fever. Sometimes those are the only symptoms that appear, and the disease goes into latency without causing any damage.

About 15% of the infected progress to the toxic phase which includes fever, chills, vomiting, hemoraging, jaundice (from which the disease gets its name) and slow heartbeat. After 3 days in the toxic phase, the disease enters a brief period of remission in which the patient feels a bit better. However, the disease returns with a vengeance in its final stage causing characteristic black vomiting as the victim internally hemorages.

Due to its high mortality and painful symtoms this sick gets a
7 on my "lethality scale"
and a 6 on my "disturbing scale"

Monday, March 30, 2009


Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by exposure to the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii. This parasite infects all warm blooded animals, but its most common reservoir is our favorite feline companion, the domestic cat. Cats can get toxoplasmosis from their mothers during birth or from consuming infected meat. The disease is asymptomatic in cats.

Most commonly, humans contract toxoplasmosis through inadvertant injestion of cat feces. Typically, this occurs when people don't clean their hands thoroughly after cleaning their cat's litter box and later put their fingers on or near their mouths.

In a normal, healthy person, toxoplasmosis poses little danger. An infected person might have some flu like symptoms as the body defends itself against the parasitic invader, but soon the body will contain the infection and push the toxoplasmosis into latency. It can reemerge later if the immune system is compromised. Healthy individuals with especially aggressive cases of toxoplasmosis can sometimes develop eye problems due to the disease.

In immunocompromised people, such as transplant recipients, very young children or AIDS patients, toxoplasmosis can be a fatal disease. In these patients toxoplasmosis can cause neurological damage, encephalitis and heart, liver and kidney failure.

Toxoplasmosis has been linked to the development of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, lending creadance to the stereotype of the "crazy cat lady."

Acute toxoplasmosis is treated with antimalarial and antibiotic medications.

Since this disease is rarely lethal but can cause some terrifying effects in certain subgroups, I give this sick a

2 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 3 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Pseudocyesis or "false pregnancy" is when a woman displays all of the signs of pregnancy, up to and sometimes including labor, when she is not, in fact, pregnant.

Women experiencing pseudocyesis have morning sickness, tender breasts, menstrual irregularity and cervical softening as if they were actually pregnant. In addition, the stomach distends via gas, urine, fecal or fat buildup, to mimic the typical gestational distention associated with true pregnancy. Many women with this malady actually experience quickening, the feeling of a fetus moving within their body.

There are many theories as to why pseudocyesis occurs. Primarily, false pregnancy is thought to have a psychodynamic cause. Women who desperately desire to be pregnant or who are plagued with fear of becoming pregnant are most likely to experience pseudocyesis.

There is no treatment for false pregnancy aside from psychotherapy, as there is no true underlying medical cause. Many women are helped by being shown ultrasounds proving that there is no child within them.

Women have been experiencing pseudocyesis for all of recorded history. In the 1940's 1 of every 250 pregnancies was thought to be false. The incidence is now down to between 1-6 of every 22,000 births.

The most famous pseudocyesis in history was that of Mary I of England who had many instances of false pregnancy during her reign due to her desperate desire to produce an heir to the crown. Some conjecture, however, that Mary I had fibroid tumors in her uterus which mimicked pregnancy as opposed to true false pregnancies of a purely psychological origin.

Pseudocyosis is an exceptional example of the interconnectedness of mind and body. However it is certainly in no way lethal. So, this sick gets a

1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)

and a 4 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Rabies, from the Latin word "rabies" meaning "madness", is a viral disease transferred from animal to animal through saliva and blood. The virus has such brutal and specific neurological effects that it has been marked throughout history, with its first mention over 3,000 years ago.

The virus typically enters the body through a skin puncture and wends its way to the central nervous system where it rapidly causes the brain to swell. Depending on the location of viral entry the pathogen can take months or even years to reach the CNS.

The virus travels through the blood brain barrier where it is protected from the body's disease fighting cells. This relative safety allows it to mass produce itself for concentrated release in the host's saliva and tears. In fact, one of the main symptoms of rabies infection is a marked increase in saliva and tear production as the virus hijacks the saliva and tear ducts to ready itself for the leap to another victim.

The dementia and mood swings caused by the illness are spectacular. Victims often become aggressive and violent as the virus attacks their brains. A combination of saliva production and other neurological changes cause the tell-tale symptom of hydrophobia, in which patients become terrified or aggressive when presented with water, and even though they are dying of thirst, cannot bring themselves to drink. It is the combination of this lack of hydration and over-production of saliva which causes the disease's trademark "foaming at the mouth."

Death from respiratory arrest occurs between 2-10 days after the first "flu-like" symptoms appear.

Once the virus has begun causing physical symptoms in the victim there is no standard treatment protocol, and the patient is expected to die. There have only been 6 reported cases in medical history of survival once Rabies had become symptomatic. One of these survivors, Jeanna Giese, was a WI teenager, who was spared from death in 2005 when doctors induced a coma in tandem with pharmaceutical intervention. This treatment has been replicated in subsequent cases without success.

Prophylactic Vaccination, however, has an almost 100% success rate at preventing the onset of symptoms. If a victim recognizes that they may have come in contact with the virus and seeks medical help before the virus has reached the CNS, it is extremely unlikely that they will ever get the full-blown disease.

This sick can be easily thwarted if caught early, but is truly one of the most horrific diseases if allowed to progress to its symptomatic stage. So, I give this sick a:
6 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 6 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Friday, March 27, 2009


Contrary to colloquial usage, the term "Influenza" or "The Flu" does not refer to every illness resulting in coughing, sneezing, vomiting or fever. Rather, "Flu" is an illness caused by a very specific family of RNA viruses called Orthomyxoviridae, which mutate on a, typically, yearly cycle to frustrate our bodies attempts at immunity. It is the ubiquity and prevalence of Influenza in all cultures and demographics that has caused us to generalize many unrelated illnesses under the heading of "Flu."

Influenza kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, typically the very old and the very young, as it makes it's annual sweep across the globe. In an average year, 200,000 Americans are hospitalized because of Influenza.

Every year, the flu virus returns to its animal reservoirs (primarily pigs and birds) and undergoes various mutations. These mutations generate a unique yearly Influenza strain. Strains vary in lethality, contagion and severity from year to year. Scientists are constantly monitoring emerging strains in an effort to develop each year's vaccine. However, they are never 100% certain which strain will emerge.

When a person receives their yealry Flu shot, they are taking a gamble. It is possible that the devised vaccine will prevent the strain of Flu that comes around, but it is also possible that a different strain of Flu will unexpectedly emerge which is not affected by the vaccine leaving people unknowingly unprotected from infection.

The major symptomatic differences between cold and flu are as follows:

Flu vs. Colds: A Guide to Symptoms

Questions Flu Cold
Was your onset of illness … sudden? slow?
Do you have a … high fever? no (or mild) fever?
Is your exhaustion level … severe? mild?
Is your head … achy? headache-free?
Is your appetite … decreased? normal?
Are your muscles … achy? fine?
Do you have … chills? no chills?

Influenza is so common that we often forget about the huge toll it takes each year in human life and health care resources. It has historically proven to be one of the worst scourges of human kind. With that in mind I rate this sick

a 2 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 2 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Retinitis Pigmentosa is the most common hereditary, degenerative eye disease. The disease is typically slow in its progress. Most people affected by the disease do not become blind until they are between the ages of 40-50. However, there are cases that show more rapid progression.

In Retinitis Pigmentosa, abnormalities in the retinal pigment epithelium and the rod and cone photoreceptors of the eyes lead to progressive blindness. Symptoms begin with night blindness which is followed over time by increasing tunnel-vision and, sometimes, by loss of vision in the central field.

There is currently no cure for Retinitis Pigmentosa. However, blindness can be postponed by up to 10 years through a daily regiment of Vitamin A.

Retinitis Pigmentosa became familiar to 13 year old girls and gay men everywhere during Cycle 3 of the Tyra Banks vehicle, America's Next Top Model, when contestent Amanda revealed that she suffered from the disease. The sad irony was that it was Amanda's pale blue eyes which were her most beautiful feature.

This sick gets a:

1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 1 on my "distrubing scale" (1-10)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Kuru (Mad Human Disease) is a PrP (prion) related disease (see Fatal Familial Insomnia) that causes neurological effects such as truncal ataxia, headaches and uncontrolled tremors ultimately leading to death. Kuru is transmissible between humans via the consumption of an infected person's flesh. The brain meat, in particular, is highly infectious because the prions exist there in a higher concentration.

Kuru was endemic to the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea. Fore tribe members practiced ritual canibalism as part of burial ceremonies. The men of the tribes ate the best cuts of meat while the women and children were left to consume the organs and brain. It is thought that this difference in consumption practices caused the increased prevalance of Kuru seen in the women and children of the Fore tribe.

Scientists conjecture that the outbreak of Kuru which plagued the Fore tribe began when they consumed someone who had been suffering from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a similar prion-based illness.)

In Kuru, death occurs within 18 months of the onset of symptoms. However, like its cousins Mad Cow Disease and FFI, the disease can be latent for up to 40 years from the time of contraction.

Because this sick is fatal and is passed through canibalism, I give this sick a
7 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 7 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


This sick is definitely fishy!

Trimethylaminuria (Fish Odor Syndrome) is a hereditary, metabolic disorder which renders the body unable to properly break down the compound trimethylamine from foods. This inability to breakdown the compound causes the chemical to build up in the system and to be released via sweat, urine and breath giving off an intensely unpleasant fishy odor.

There is no cure for the disease. Some studies have shown that ingesting copper or charcoal on a daily basis can reduce or eliminate the odor, but results are mixed. Limiting the consumption of foods which break down into trimethylamine can also be helpful, but these dietary restrictions are difficult since so many foods break down into the chemical.

Trimethylaminuria is not life threatening, but it has an extreme impact on quality of life. The odor is so intense that it can cause major disruptions in a victim's social life, leading to depression.

This sick gets a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 3 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Monday, March 23, 2009


Found in just 28 families worldwide, Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI) is a hereditary condition caused by an abnormality in the Prion Protein (PrP) which causes the protein to mutate into a new form called PRPsc. PRPsc is insoluble and builds up plaques in the Thalamus, the part of the brain responsible for regulating sleep.

A person with a single parent suffering from FFI has a 50% chance of developing the disease.

Symptoms typically begin around the age of 50 with increasing bouts of insomnia culminating in complete sleeplessness which is ultimately fatal within 36 months of onset.

FFI occurs in 4 stages.

  1. Increased insomnia (causing panic attacks, phobias and paranoia)
  2. Increasing panic attacks and psychotic behavior
  3. Complete inability to sleep (causing rapid weight loss)
  4. Dementia (leading to death)

There is no cure or treatment for FFI. Sleeping pills do nothing to relieve the symptoms. Gene therapy seems to be the most promising research avenue to-date.

Due to the horrific course of the disease and it's 100% fatality rate I give this disease a

9 on my "lethality scale"
and a 5 on my "disturbing scale"

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Neurocysticercosis is a parasitic infection of the central nervous system most commonly caused by the consumption of undercooked pork infected with the Taenia Solium tapeworm. It is the leading cause of brain infection and epilepsy in the developing world.

When a human ingests pork or fecal matter which contains the Taenia Solium larvae, the ova are digested in the stomach and release oncospheres which can penetrate the intestinal wall and travel through the body. The oncospheres then latch on to other tissue and become embedded forming cysts in the brain, eyes, or subcutaneous tissue.

There are 4 stages to these neurological cysts which describe the body's reaction to the oncospheres. The 3rd stage has the most bizarre symptoms. In this stage the body is actively reacting to the eggs decomposing in the brain and neurological changes are dramatic. Seizures, mood and personality changes, vision alteration and intercraneal pressure all occur in the 3rd stage.

This disease can be treated with medication or via surgical intervention to remove the cysts.

Since this sick is basically "worm eggs in your brain" and can cause death if not properly treated, I give this sick a

8 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)
and a 3 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)

Saturday, March 21, 2009


A bezoar is a mass of foreign material trapped somewhere in the gastrointestinal system. Typically, these obstructions are found in the stomach where they are formed from food boli, celulose, medications or hair.

There is even a syndrome specifically described for hairy bezoars in the stomach and the small bowel. Rapunzel Syndrome, named after the heroin of the famous fairytale, typicall occurs in psychiatric patients suffering from trichophagia, which is the compulsive need to ingest hair.

In the middle ages, bezoars were considered magical. Bezoar stones where thought to cure any poison, until the theory was tested by a physician on a convicted fellon condemned to death by poisoning. After the prisoner was poisoned, the physician treated him with a bezoar. The fellon died 7 hours later in extreme agony, proving definitively that bezoars could not cure poisoning.

The consumption of under-ripe persimmons is the leading cause of Bezoars in humans.

Due to modern, medical intervention, bezoars are rarely lethal. However, they can be quite disturbing due to their sheer size and foreign appearance.

This sick gets a

1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)

and a 3 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Friday, March 20, 2009


Named for French doctor Maurice Raynaud, Raynaud's Disease was first described in 1862.

Raynaud's Disease is characterized by vascular anomalies that restrict blood flow to the extremities when the sufferer is exposed to cold temperatures or stress.

The disease is most often diagnosed in women in their teens and early twenties.

There are two types of Raynaud's. When the vascular anomalies are caused by an apparent secondary cause, the ailment is called Raynaud's Phenomenon. When there is no secondary cause for the symptoms it is called Raynaud's Disease, or Primary Renaud's.

Raynaud's is defined by its extreme visible symptoms. There are 3 cyclic color changes that occur in the extremities of Renaud's disease sufferers.

When a Renaud's sufferer is exposed to cold or stress their fingers, toes, nose or ears will often turn white as their blood vessels constrict diminishing blood flow to the extremities. When the vascular constriction is extreme and extended, the extremities will turn blue from hypoxea. Once the extremities are brought back into a warm environment or the stressor is removed, they will often swell and turn bright red.

Primary Renauds is not typically life threatening, though severe cases of the disease can cause gangrene from reduced blood flow and hypoxeia of the extremities. In these severe cases, medication is sometimes used to increase blood flow, and even vascular surgery might be attempted in an affort to get blood flow normalized.

This sick is typically more of an annoyance than a threat but does have some interesting and apparent physical symptoms. So, I give it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 2 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Named after the sea-god Proteus, Proteus syndrome is an extremely rare (200 cases since the disease was isolated in 1979) hereditary disorder that causes uncontrolled growth of bones, muscles, tissues, skin and lymphatic vessels leading to severe disfigurement as the disease progresses.
Victims of Proteus Syndrome are born with a completely normal appearance but as they grow older growths of skin and bone begin to alter their appearance and cause health complications.
Affected individuals may die early due to complications from extraneous tissue and bone growth. Sometimes, the very mass of the tumors can end their lives. For instance, the most famous Proteus Syndrome case, Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), died when the weight of his head broke his neck while he was sleeping.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what causes Proteus Syndrome, but there is some evidence that it is linked to the PTEN gene on either chromosome 10 or chromosome 16.
There is no prescribed treatment, but there has been some success treating the illness with Rapamycin.

Due to the horrible disfigurement this disease causes and the fact that it often leads to early death, I give this sick a
4 on my lethality scale (1-10)
and a 10 on my disturbing scale (1-10)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Progeria is an extremely rare, genetic condition (1 in 4,000,000) which causes exceptionally rapid aging. Children who are born with this ailment usually die by the time they are 13 years old.

Though the disease is genetic, it is not usually inherited. It is a mutation which causes a change to LMNA, a gene on chromosome 1 that is crucial in producing the membrane which surrounds cell walls. It is this change to the cellular membrane that causes the rapid aging seen in progeria patients.

There is no treatment for Progeria. Instead, doctors focus on solving the problems that the disease causes, such as heart disease, through surgery and profilactic measures.

90% of progeria cases die from cardiovascular causes such as stroke or heart attack.

Progeria was first discovered in 1886 by Jonathan Hutchinson. It was also independently documented in 1897 by Hastingls Gilford. The disease's full name is: Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome (HGPS).

This is a truly devestating illness with 100% mortality over a relatively long period of time.
Its physical manifestations are disturbing and painful to the victim.

So, this sick gets a:
9 on my lethality scale (1-10)
and a 9 on my disturbing scale (1-10)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Munchausen syndrome is a psychological illness in which the sufferer will fake or induce the symptoms of illness or injury in order to receive the attentions of medical personel.

The odd name for this syndrome is taken from Baron M√ľnchhausen who lived from 1720-1797 and purportedly told many impossible stories about his own fictitious adventures.

People who develop Munchausen have often experienced childhood trauma or neglect from sick parents whose illnesses made them unavailable.

Lethality: 1

Disturbing: 3


Congenital insensitivity to pain (CIPA) is one or more rare conditions where a person cannot feel (and has never felt) physical pain, though their experience of other sensations is normal.

This condition is extremely rare, only affecting 1 in 125,000,000 births. It is more prevalent in homogenous populations, where interbreeding is thought to trigger the defect.

There are times when the condition is caused by increased production of endorphins in the brain, in which case naloxone may be used as treatment. However, this treatment is not always effective.

The major danger to people with CIPA is self-injury. Since they don't feel mouth pain, they sometimes bite off their own tounges or wound their teeth and gums. In addition, they don't automatically reposition themselves when sitting or sleeping which can cause stress injury.
Lethality Rating: 2
Disturbing Rating: 3


Rickets is a nutritional deficiency characterized by softening of the bones caused by lack of vitamin D and calcium. At particular risk are breast fed babies whose mothers don't get enough sunlight, a major source of vitamin D.

The reason that lack of vitamin D has such a profound effect on the bones, is the vitamin D is necessary in order for the body to absorb calcium from food in the stomach and intestines. Without vitamin D, the calcium is not absorbed but, rather, passes through the body and is excreted.

Children suffering from Rickets can sometimes present to doctors as abuse victims as many of the symptoms resemble damages caused by child abuse.

Those suffering from rickets are treated with Ultraviolet Light Therapy and dietary changes to increase the intake of vitamin D, calcium and phosphates.
Because this disease disables and disfigured children, but is not typically lethal, I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 6 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)


Bells palsy is a paralysis of cranial nerve VII resulting in inability to control the facial muscles on the affected side. Many conditions result in facial paralysis. Doctors use the term "Bells Palsy" to describe facial paralysis for which no cause is apparent.

The onset of the facial paralysis is very sudden, typically causing complete or paralysis of the affected side of the face within 24 hours.

No cause for Bell's palsy has been isolated. However some evidence suggests herpes simplex type 1 infection might play a role in triggering the symptoms.

Bells Palsy is often treated with anti-inflamatory and anti-viral medications, but there is some argument about the efficacy of treatment.

Even without treatment most (85%) Bells Palsy sufferers will get better within 3 weeks of onset. With the other 15% recovering within 6 months.

One unpleasant complication that can occur with this ailment is a chronic loss of the ability to taste.

This is a relatively harmless though strange sick.

So, this ailment rates a

1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10) and a

4 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10


Marburg Virus is a haemorrhagic fever of African origin which causes high fever, bleeding and organ failure. Mortality after infection is said, by some, to be over 90%.

Marburg is extremely similar to its more famous cousin the Ebola Virus. In fact, both viruses are structurally identical. It is because they produce different antibodies that they are classified as seperate diseases.

The Marburg virus is named after Marburg Germany where the disease was first documented in 1967. The virus was traced back to lab monkeys.

The disease is indigenous to Africa where, it is believed, a natural reservoir of fruit bats stores the virus during times of dormancy.

There is no treatment for Marburg virus. No antivirals have been proved to slow its progress. Victims are treated with supportive medications and fluids.

This disease is passed via body fluids including blood, excrement, saliva and vomit.

Symptoms are flu-like at onset, but quickly proceed to rash, haemorrhaging, hypovolemic shock and multiple organ failure.

This is a very harsh sick.

So, this ailment rates a
10 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 10 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)


A Fetiform Teratoma is a tumor with tissue and organ components resembling those of a fetus; including limbs and organ systems.

Teratomas are part of a group of tumors called nonseminomatous germ cell tumor (NSGCT). All tumors of this class are caused by abnormal growth of germ cells and embryonal cells.

Teratomas of embryonal origin are hereditary; teratomas of germ cell origin are not necessarily congenital. The kind of cell from which the tumor develops does not have any affect on the tumor, except for determining the location of the tumor in the body.

Fetiform Teratomas are not necessarily malignant and can often be removed with excellent results.

So, this ailment rates a 3 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)

and a 10 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)