Monday, April 27, 2009


Swine flu is a respiratory disease which affects pigs. From time to time, the flu strains found in pigs mutate making them capable of passing from pigs to human hosts. Once strains of swine flu have passed into the human population, the disease is able to be spread from person to person. Each time influenza passes from pigs to people the form of the virus is unique. Sometimes the virus is virulent, deadly and easily passed. Other times it is hard to pass and less lethal.

The 2009 strain of Swine Flu (H1N1) which infected people in Mexico, the U.S., and Spain is able to be passed from person to person and appears to have a mortality rate of between 1-7%. It is not yet known how easily this H1N1 strain can be passed. An infected person is contagious from 1 day prior to symptoms throughout the 7 day symptomatic period. It is important to take precautions to prevent infection. These include: Thoroughly washing hands with soap and water (for at least 20-25 seconds.), washing with antibiotic gels, covering mouth/nose when sneezing, getting plenty of rest, staying active, and eating healthy foods.

Symptoms are nearly identical to the common flu and include: fever, body aches, cough, sneezing, headache, chills and fatigue. In some cases people have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Tests exist to accurately indicate whether an ill person is suffering from H1N1 or common influenza.

The H1N1 strain of Swine Flu is susceptible to treatment with oseltamivir or zanamivir. The severity of illness varies greatly from person to person. Some people become only mildly sick, while others develop dangerous respiratory infections which require hospitalization.

Normally, influenza is only dangerous to the very young, very old or people with compromised immune systems. H1N1 has shown itself to be lethal to a broader swathe of society, primarily those between the ages of 20 and 40.

There is currently no vaccine for the H1N1 Swine Flu, but Baxter International, a pharmaceutical company, is working to develop a vaccine within 6 months.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Decompression Sickness, commonly referred to as "The Bends," is an ailment caused when dissolved gasses in the body turn into bubbles when atmospheric pressure on the body is decreased. Symptoms vary depending on where in the body the bubbles form.

In a typical case of The Bends, the bubbles form in the joints, where they push apart the tissues causing localized deep pain which can range from a mild to tingling to excruciating agony. When the bubbles form in the brain or spinal chord, the victim can experience neurological symptoms such as tingling or burning, vision distortions, paralysis, headaches, seizures, or confusion and memory loss. Bubbles in the lungs can cause breathing difficulties, a dry cough, and chest pain (which is aggravated by breathing.) Sometimes bubbles can form in the skin, which causes rash, swelling and the sensation of insects crawling in the skin.

Decompression Sickness is caused by reduction of pressure around the body. This can occur when someone leaves a high pressure environment (e.g., moving from a hyperbaric chamber to a normal room), when someone ascends from great depths, as at the end of a scuba dive, or when someone ascends to a great altitude without proper pressurization.

Mild cases of Decompression Sickness require medical attention, but often will disappear without intervention. More acute cases of The Bends, especially those affecting the lungs or nervous system might require hyperbaric oxygen treatment. In hyperbaric treatment the body is pressurized to a point where the bubbles dissolve and then gradually brought to lower pressures so that the body can recalibrate to the new pressure without producing bubbles.

When a diver receives hyperbaric treatment for the bends, it is unlikely that his or her health insurance will cover the treatment. Diving is considered a high risk activity. So, resulting expenses for medical emergencies will often come directly from the victim's pocket. Hyperbaric treatment costs thousands of dollars.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Trichotillomania (Trich) is an impulse control disorder characterized by repeated pulling of the hair, often leading to bald spots. A patient suffering from Trichotillomania typically pulls hair from one specific spot on the body in a habitual, repeated way. Head hair, nose hair, eyebrows, and pubic hair are all common areas for Trich. The disorder is thought to be an amalgum of Obssessive Cmpulsive and Movement disorders. Since many people suffering from Trich are not even aware that they are pulling out their hair when they are doing it, many place it in the same category as nail biting, which has a similar habitual pattern.

Trichotillomania has an estimated prevalence rate of 1% worldwide. It is thought that the disorder was previously under reported but that reporting has increased in the past decades as the stigma surrounding compulsive disorders has lessened and psychological care has become more ubiquitous.

There are very stong indications that Trich is hereditary. Scientists isolated a gene they believed to be responsible for the behavior, and when they injected lab rats with it, those rats started to rip out their own and others hair. Stress is a common trigger for Trich behavior. Most trich patients will show no hair pulling behavior in a stress-free situation, but will immediately engage in the behavior when presented with stress.

Treatment often includes both behavioral and drug therapy. Tricyclic antidepressants are more effective than SSRIs (like prozac) in the treatment of Trich. Behavioral treatments have to do with understanding what situations serve as triggers for the behavior in order to increase awareness and develop strategies to avoid engaging in the behavior in those situations.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Occurring in 5% of acute alcohol withdrawal cases, Delirium Tremens (The DTs) is a highly lethal reaction that the body can have when alcohol is removed from the system. 35% of untreated Delirium Tremens cases are fatal. 5% of treated cases still end in death. Long term and heavy alcohol consumption, especially in tandem with benzodiazapine addiction, increases the likelihood that a person will succumb to the DTs upon withdrawal from one or both substances.

Excessive consumption of alcohol causes changes in the brain's GABA receptors which cause the body to produce more norepinephrine, dopamine, epinephrine, and serotonin - all of which further the drinker's tolerance to alcohol. When the regular dosage of ethyl alcohol is removed the GABA receptors are still unable to process the normal levels of GABA that the brain produces and therefore the GABA chemical cannot regulate the already elevated adrenergic chemicals. This causes what is refered to as an adrenergic storm.

During this adrenergic storm the patient will experience symptoms such as hypertension, hyperthermia, hyperreflexia, diaphoresis, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmia, stroke, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and agitation. The adrenaline system is so out of control that it can very easily kill the patient. The DTs are treated with large doses of benzodiazapines, such as ativan, to continue to block GABA reuptake so that the patient can be slowly weened off. Valium is also used to calm the adrenergic chemicals in the body.

The Delerium Tremens are a well documented and long-standing plague worldwide. Various colloquial terms have been used through the years to describe the DTs including "the horrors", "the fear", "the abdabs" or "the rats."

Since this sick is relatively lethal if untreated and causes some pretty crazy psychological symptoms, I rate it a
5 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 5 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Monday, April 20, 2009


Associated with Schizophrenia, brain damage, and dementia, the Capgras Delusion is characterized by a patient being convinced that a loved one has been imprisoned and that an impostor has taken his or her place. Capgras Delusion is characterized as a delusional misidentification syndrome, though some researchers believe that the Capgras Delusion should not be considered a syndrome, but rather a symptom related to underlying causes.

The Capgras Delusion is named after Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist who first described the ailment in 1923 in a paper coauthored by Reboul-Lachaux.

It is believed that the Capgras Delusion is caused by a breakdown in the part of the brain responsible for creating the appropriate emotional resonse to visual stimuli. When a person suffering from this disorder sees the face of a loved one, they can recognize the person, but do not feel the appropriate emotional response leading them to believe that something is not right and that the person is not really the person they know and love.

In the case of schizophrenia, which makes up the majority of Capgras cases, the delusion can be treated with antipsychotic medication.

Since this sick is not terminal, but can lead to immense emotional pain and even violence, I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 5 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Once thought to be a sexually transmitted disease, prostatitis is the term used to describe swelling of the prostate which can be caused by bacteria or can occur spontaneously with no direct infectious cause. Prostatitis is the diagnosis for 25% of urology complaints in young and middle-aged men. Only 5-10% of prostatitis cases are caused by bacteria. Those cases can be treated with antibiotics.

Chronic, non-bacteria prostatitis is the most common form of the ailment, accounting for 90% of prostatitis cases. The condition is marked by urinary and genital pain for at least three of the past six months. Patients have no bacteria in their urine, but may have other signs of inflammation. The pain from prostatitis occurs because the swollen prostate puts pressure on the urethra and other surrounding tissues.

The symptoms of prostatitis include:
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • difficulty urinating
  • blood in the urine
  • fever
  • painful ejactulation
  • pelvic pain
Treatments for prostatitis include:
  • warm sitz baths
  • anti inflamatory medication
  • antibiotics
  • muscle relaxants
  • prostate massage
  • surgery
Risk factors that increase the likelihood of prostatitis include:
  • particpation in anal sex
  • abnormal urinary tract
  • recent catheterization
  • bladder infection
  • enlarged prostate
There is no link between prostatitis and prostate cancer. Prostatitis is not contagious.

Since this sick is not deadly and has no disturbing manifestations aside from a heck of a lot of discomfort, I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 1 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is the medical name for any blood clot that forms in the deep veins. Typically, DVT occurs in the legs, but can also occur in the arms. In any case of DVT, there is a 3% chance that the patient will die. So, any indication of DVT must be thorougly tested and DVT patients should be hospitalized until the condition has stabilized. The greatest danger from DVT is that part of the blood clot will break free and travel to the lungs causing a pulmonary embolism.

350,000 to 600,000 American's suffer from DVT each year and at least 100,000 annual deaths can be attributed to DVT and related complications.

Sometimes a DVT will have no symptoms, but commonly the affected extremity becomes swollen, red and hot. If a doctor suspects DVT, he or she will run a test called a d-dimer which checks for enzymes produced when the body is attempting to break down a blood clot. They will also do an ultrasound of the veins. When a DVT is diagnosed the patient is given anticoagulants to break down the blood clot. In severe cases the patient may be fitted with an inferior veina cava filter. These devices strain the blood preventing clotting. Today they can be placed using catheters. Placement used to require surgery.

The following factors, called Virchow's Triad, are known to affect clot formation: rate of blood flow, the consistency (thickness) of the blood, and qualities of the vessel wall.

Patients who have just had surgery or that are bed ridden or who have had to remain stationary for long periods of time are most likely to develop DVT.

Since this sick affects so many people and can be quite lethal, but has few outwardly disturbing manifestations I rate it a

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

Friday, April 17, 2009


An ectopic pregnancy is any case in which a fertilized ovum implants itself and begins to grow in tissue other than the uterine wall. 98% of ectopic pregnancies are tubal pregnancies in which the fertilized ovum takes root in the fallopian tube. However, eggs can also implant themselves in the cervix, abdominal cavity and ovaries. 1 out of 100 pregnancies is ectopic.

Ectopic pregnancies are dangerous because fertilized ova are designed to attach and invade surrounding tissue. This is necessary in order for the fetus to be supplied with blood. However, in the case of an ectopic implantation, the ovum cells invade tissues that are not designed to supply this blood. This can cause disruption of major blood vessels and arteries which can lead to hemorrhage and death.

Most of the time the body will automatically flush out the ovum, but sometimes abortive medicines or surgery are required. It is possible for a woman to have both an ectopic and a normal pregnancy at the same time. Medical personnel typically do an ultrasound before surgery or drug therapy to make sure a viable uterine pregnancy is not occurring simultaneous to the ectopic one.

Vaginal douching is thought to increase the chance of ectopic pregnancies.

The catholic church does not consider abortion to be a sin in the case of ectopic pregnancy.

I rate this sick a
2 on my "lethality scale"
and a 4 on my "disturbing scale"

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Conversion Disorder is a psychiatric ailment in which a patient experiences physical symptoms which, upon testing, have no physical cause. Conversion Disorder can cause an amazingly variable array of physical symptoms including blindness, pain, numbness, paralysis or fits.

A diagnosis of Conversion Disorder is made after thorough health screening by doctors to exclude physical or neurological causes for the symptoms.

The following diagnostic criteria have been set for Conversion Disorder by the DSM IV:

  • One or more symptoms or deficits are present that affect voluntary motor or sensory function suggestive of a neurologic or other general medical condition.
  • Psychological factors are judged, in the clinician's belief, to be associated with the symptom or deficit because conflicts or other stressors precede the initiation or exacerbation of the symptom or deficit. A diagnosis where the stressor precedes the onset of symptoms by up to 15 years is not unusual.
  • The symptom or deficit is not intentionally produced or feigned (as in factitious disorder or malingering).
  • The symptom or deficit, after appropriate investigation, cannot be explained fully by a general medical condition, the direct effects of a substance, or as a culturally sanctioned behavior or experience.
  • The symptom or deficit causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning or warrants medical evaluation.
  • The symptom or deficit is not limited to pain or sexual dysfunction, does not occur exclusively during the course of somatization disorder, and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
Conversion disorder is treated by carefully and neutrally explaining the disorder to the patient, psychological or psychoactive treatment of anxiety/depression, and physiotherapy to alleviate symptoms.

I rate this sick a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 4 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Gunther's Disease is an extremely rare, congenital variation of Porphyria. Porphyria diseases are manifested in the body's inability to generate the chemical heme, a substance found in the bone marrow, red blood cells and liver. In Gunther's Disease the lack of heme allows other naturally occuring chemicals, called porphyrins, to build up to toxic levels in the body.

The physical manifestations of Gunther's Disease include extreme sensitivity to sunlight (blistering and scarring) as well as increased hair growth on the forhead and face. The chemical changes in the body can also cause the teeth to turn red and glow, and the urine to take on a pinkish hue. Bacteria can form in the affected areas causing infection which can require amputation of fingers, noses, etc.

People with Gunther's Disease must avoid the sunlight and restrict their diets to avoid chemicals which might trigger porphyria attacks. In some cases of porphyria, regular bloodletting can help to reduce the level of Porphyrins in the blood, and provide symptom relief. There is no cure for the disease.

Gunther's Disease typically manifests in infants, but there have been cases of rapid adult onset. Despite the lack of a cure or effective treatment, most people with Gunther's Disease live to be between 40 and 60 years old.

Gunther's Disease is sometimes known as "Vampire Disease" because its symptoms so closely mimic the mythological symptoms associated with vampires.

I rate this sick a
2 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 6 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


A goiter is a swelling of the thyroid gland due to one of the following causes:

  • Iodine Deficiency
  • Inborn errors of thyroid hormone synthesis
  • Ingestion of goitrogens, such as cassava.
  • Side-effects of pharmacological therapy
  • Graves' disease
  • Thyroiditis
  • Thyroid cancer
The most common cause of goiters is iodine deficiency. Iodine is processed by the thyroid and turned into hormones which are necessary for the body's regulatory functions. When the thyroid doesn't have any iodine to work with, it will stop producing hormones, which causes the hypothalamus to react by telling the pituitary gland to grow additional thyroid cells. This causes the thyroid to grow in an attempt to rectify the hormone deficiency. If left unchecked, the thyroid can grow to tremendous sizes.

Many developed countries have started supplementing salt with iodine to lower the incidence of goiters. However, many people are starting to move away from common table salt in favor of specialized salts which do not contain supplemental iodine.

Surgery to reduce the size of the thyroid and supplemental iodine is necessary in the case of very large iodine deficiency goiters. In the case of goiters caused by Graves' disease, the patient may need to have the thyroid removed or might need to take medications that inhibit the thyroid hormones.

I rate this sick a 1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 3 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Monday, April 13, 2009


Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder which causes muscles throughout the body to involuntarily spasm and contract. As the disease progresses it causes the victim's body to take on strange postures as various muscle groups contract in unnatural ways. There are a number of different types of dystonia. These types are listed below:
  • Generalized
  • Segmental
  • Intermediate
  • Acute Dystonic Reaction
Generalized dystonia affects the entire body. It usually begins in childhood with symptoms beginning in the lower body and gradually working their way from bottom to top. As the disease progresses the patient will experience muscle pain and will eventually be unable to move.

Focal dystonias target a single muscle group. As an example, someone suffering from cervical dystonia will experience muscle contractions in the neck causing the head to pull to the side or to the chest.

Dystonia's are treated in a number of ways. Focal dystonias have been effectively treated with botulism (botox) injections to paralyze the spasming muscle group. Anti-parkinsonian drugs, such as L-dopa, and muscle relaxers can be an effective treatment for some forms of the disease.

Generalized dystonias have been treated with deep brain stimulation. Deep brain stimulation involves a dangerous and complicated surgery in which the patient, while awake, has his skull opened and two electrodes embedded deep in the brain. The surgery can take up to 8 hours to complete. The electrodes in the brain are connected to a battery in the chest cavity which continually shocks the inside of the brain preventing it from sending out the signals which make the muscles contract. Patients who have opted to try deep brain stimulation have to undergo surgery every five years to replace the batteries in the chest unit.

Since this sick is rarely lethal but has a profound and noticeable impact on the body I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 5 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a member of the herpesviruses group. It is commonly called Human Herpesvirus 5. CMV infections are typically of the salivary glands and can only be transfered through bodily fluid contact.

CMV infection is nearly ubiquitous in the worldwide population. By the time people are 6 years old, over 50% of them are infected with CMV. By the time they are 80 year old, over 90% of people are infected with CMV.

CMV infection is most often asymptomatic. Even the primary infection is rarely noticed. Once a person has contracted the virus, the body easily contains it through the production of antibodies and the disease becomes latent. However, there is no cure for the virus and it will remain in the system of the infected person forever.

Because so many people have CMV and are unaffected by it, the disease is allowed to spread among humans unabated. Children with CMV are allowed to mix freely with uninfected children. Primarily, because they are completely asymptomatic. People with CMV are allowed to donate blood, and CMV infected blood will be transfused into uninfected people as long as they aren't immunosuppressed. People with known immune system deficiencies receive blood from an uninfected pool.

In immunocompromised patients, such as those with HIV or those with organ transplants, CMV can be deadly. When the immune system is severely depressed, there are no longer enough antibodies to keep the CMV in check and the disease can kick back up in the system. When the disease reemerges it is called a secondary CMV infection. Secondary CMV infections can cause liver failure, eye damage, bowel inflammation and even meningitis (if it infects the spinal fluid.)

Immunocompromised patients who are experiencing CMV infection are treated with strong antivirals such as ganciclovir or valgancicolvir.

CMV infection in the womb is thought to be the cause of some birth defects.

Since this sick is rarely symptomatic and almost never fatal, and since most people are infected with it and experience no ill-effects, I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 1 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Friday, April 10, 2009


When people hear the term "Rheumatoid Arthritis" they are sometimes confused about its relation to normal, age-related degenerative osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis, unlike osteoarthritis, is not caused by normal wear and tear. Rather, it is a vicious, autoimmune disease with no known cause.

Unlike osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis is systemic and attacks not only the articular cartilage and ankylosis of the joints, but also major organ systems such as the lungs, kidneys and heart. It also causes rheumatoid nodules, which stem from a breakdown of the skin and usually form over affected joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can start at any age, but typically does not begin before the age of 18. The likelihood of emergence increases every year between the ages of 18 and 80.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is progressive and permanent. It causes extreme pain and disfigurement. 33% of sufferers will not be able to work 5 years after diagnosis. Within 10 years, 50% suffer from significant disability. Most specialists think that the disease shortens the lifespan of victims by about 5-10 years. The disease can cause blindness, liver failure, anaemia, lymphoma, and osteoporosis. Patients often have persistent fevers, loss of appetite and weight loss.

RA is treated with a number of agents, some of which slow the disease, others of which ameliorate the symptoms. Analgesics to reduce inflammation and Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs such as minocycline, azathioprine and D-penicillamine are used to slow the progression of the illness.

Since this sick causes so much pain and deformity and has no cure but is not highly lethal I rate it a

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

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Vitiligo is a disorder that causes the depletion of melanocytes in regions of a person's skin. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for the skin's pigmentation. So, when the melanocytes die or stop functioning, the color in the affected region disappears leaving the skin a whitish shade. People suffering from vitiligo have distinctive patches of white skin surrounded by skin of their natural tone. The disease affects between 1-2% of people worldwide.

No direct cause for Vitiligo has been isolated, though most scientists feel that it is a mix of autoimmune, genetic and environmental factors that triggers the disorder. Most people begin to develop symptoms in young adulthood. The disease typically begins with a few patches of discoloration and then spreads to form additional patches accross the body. The parts of the body most commonly affected are the extremities, face, neck and skin folds. Patches of vitiligo are often symmetrical, appearing evenly on both sides of the body. Affected areas may grow or shrink or become mottled as melanocytes heal or recolonize the pigment-deprived regions.

Stress may be a triggering factor for Vitiligo, since it can send the immune system into overdrive. Since scalp vitiligo can affect hair pigmentation, this lends credence to the commonly held mythos of fear turning hair white.

Vitiligo is not life threatening. However, it can be embarassing for those who suffer from it. In limited cases, make-up can be used to cover the white patches. In addition, exposure to UV light and certain drugs can help the melanocytes to heal or recolonize. In extreme cases, some patients opt to undergo a depigmentation process which removes the melanocytes from their unaffected skin causing their skin to be an even white tone. Michael Jackson attributes his lightened skin tone to Vitiligo.

Since this sick is not life threatening but does cause some disfiguring symptoms I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale." (1-10)
and a 2 on my "disturbing scale." (1-10)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Guillan-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disease which affects the peripheral nervous system. The syndrome is typically triggered when the body is trying to fight off an acute infection. In the case of GBS, the immune system goes into over drive and, instead of concentrating solely on the infecting agent, begins to attack the nerve tissue gangliosides. The syndrome can sometimes be induced by an immune response to medicine (Serum Sickness.)

As the immune system begins to destroy the nerve tissue, the patient begins to feel paralysis symtoms, such as weakness in the lower limbs. GBS has a characteristic progression with neuropathy spreading from the legs up the trunk of the body and into the face. Many patients, but not all, feel pain in their weakened muscles, which can be treated with normal pain medications. There is no fever associated with GBS. In fact, absence of fever is a diagnostic marker of the ailment.

The lethal danger from GBS is that it can also affect the nerves responsible for autonomic functions such as breathing and circulatory control. Some GBS patients (30%) need to be put onto respirators while the disease runs its course to prevent suffocation.

Treatment includes plasmapheresis or intravenous immunoglobulins and supportive care.

About 80% of people who are afflicted with GBS, recover fully within a few months to a year. 5-10% experience permanent damage to their axons which causes significant disability. Even with treatment, around 3% of patients die from the syndrome.

Since this sick has a profound impact on the patient's body and because it is lethal 3% of the time even with the best treatment possible, I rate it a

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

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Leishmaniasis, named after Scottish Pathologist William Leishman, is a protozoan parasitic infection which causes skin sores, fever, liver and spleen damage. It is the second most common protozoal infection after Malaria and is responsible for 500,000 deaths each year, primarily in third world countries.

The disease is spread by the female phlebotomine sand fly who injects the leishmania parasite into the body of the host. The disease suppresses the immune system allowing secondary infections such as HIV, TB and Malaria to flare up to the point of fatality.

From the time of infection, Leishmaniasis takes about 12-16 weeks to run its course. Even if the patient fights off the primary infection, Leishmaniasis can reemerge from weeks to years later with new and devestating symptoms. This secondary infection is called post kala-azar dermal leishmaniasis (PKDL.) PKDL starts out as a small-pox style rash which quickly spreads over the entire body with the pox gradually increasing in size. PKDL can cause intense scarring and even blindness.

Typical treatment for Leishmaniasis are a class of drugs known as antimonials. Antimony (Sb on the periodic table) is also used in flame-proofing, paints, ceramics, enamels, a wide variety of alloys, electronics, and rubber. Sub variations of Leishmaniasis have become resistant to Antimony treatment. These resistant strains are treated with Amphotericin B.

Since this sick kills so many each year and has hideous physical manifestations I rate it a
5 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 4 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Monday, April 6, 2009


Williams Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder (affecting about 1 in 7,500 births) which causes significant differences in the way the victim looks, socializes, hears, sees and learns. Williams Syndrome is caused by the deletion of 26 genes from chromosome 7. This deletion is what causes the unique physical manifestations common to all Williams Syndrome patients. These traits include:

1. Elfin appearance
2. Low nasal bridge
3. Unusually Cheerful Demeanor
4. High level of sociability
5. Normal or enhanced verbal skills
6. Perfect Pitch - and sensitive hearing
7. Bad Eyesight
8. Widely spaced teeth

People with Williams Syndrome can seem normal and are extremely engaging, but they are mentally retarded and have trouble with normal learning and reading social queues. They are also highly predisposed to anxiety disorders, phobias and some heart problems such as supravalvular aortic stenosis and transient hypercalcaemia. Their extremely sensitive hearing can be traumatic for them.

There is no treatment or cure for Williams Syndrome. It is managed through cardiological evaluations and developmental and psychological counseling.

Since this sick doesn't necessarily lead to an early death, but has some exceptional physical and psychological characteristics I rate it a
1 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 2 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Necrotizing fasciitis is a relatively rare bacterial infection of the inner layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues. The disease is characterized by the rapid spread of bacteria along the fascial plane causing significant tissue damage. There are 2 types of Necrotizing Fasciitis, one is caused by multiple microbes (Type 1) and the other is caused by a single microbe (Type 2.) Since 2001 the leading monomicrobial cause of the disease has been MRSA. Prior to that, the most common culprit was Strep A.

The infection begins at a site of trauma. The trauma can be major such as a surgical cut or as minor as a paper cut. Once the bacteria is introduced to the wound, it rapidly multiplies and makes its way throughout the underlying tissues. The first symptoms of NF include pain at the trauma site (often more intense than the wound warrants) followed by swelling around the point of introduction. As the bacteria multiplies and releases toxins, the patient will begin to experience fever and vomiting. If the wound is shallow there will be apparent swelling, but if the would is deep the infection can progress to fever before outward signs of the infection appear at the site of the wound. The toxins from the bacteria actually kill the tissue that they come into contact with, causing it to begin to rot.

Mortality rates from SF are around 73%. Treatment includes antibiotics, but if the bacteria is unresponsive to treatment, surgery might be required to preserve unaffected tissue from the spread of the bacteria (amputation.)

Since this sick is so painful and spreads so rapidly through the body causing significant mortality levels, I rate it a

5 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 6 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), knows as Lou Gehrig's Disease in the U.S.A., is a degenerative neurological disease which causes the neurons responsible for movement and motor control to die, leading to profound paralysis and death from respiratory failure. The disease begins with muscle weakness and twitches, but progresses, over many years, to the loss of all voluntary muscle control and, eventually, to the loss of involuntary muscle control.

Perhaps the most devestating feature of ALS is that while the patient loses complete control over their body, their cognitive function remains intact. The victim of ALS is completely aware of their imprisonment in a body that no longer responds to their commands.

ALS is one of the most common neuromuscular diseases in the world. 1 to 2 people per 100,000 will develop ALS each year. The disease usually manfiests between the ages of 40-60, but younger and older people can also fall victim.

No one has discovered a definitive cause of ALS, but the disease has been linked to neurotoxins, spinal surgery, pesticides used on sports fields, heavy metals and DNA defects. There is no cure for ALS and direct treatment options are limited. Riluzole is the only drug on the market designed to treat ALS. Studies have shown that it can delay death by several months. Lithium has also shown some promise in delaying death. Most of the treatments for ALS involve making life easier for the patient as they lose more and more of their muscle control.

Most ALS patients die within 3-5 years from the onset of symptoms. However some can live for 10 years or longer with the disease.

Due to the fact that this sick is uncomfortably common, has no cure and limited treatments; that it causes devestation to the body while leaving the mind conscious of that devestation; and because the disease is 100% fatal over a moderate period of time, I rate it a:

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

and a 7 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Friday, April 3, 2009


Haemochromatosis is a common hereditary disease which causes the body to absorb too much iron from food. Since the human body has no way of eliminating excess iron, it builds up in the skin, eyes and organs eventually resulting in a bronzed appearance and organ failure if maintenance treatments aren't begun.

The disease is especially prevalent among Irish and other Northern European races with an incidence of 1 in 200 people.

There is no routine test for Haemochromatosis. A diagnosis is typically made after other, standard liver enzyme tests come back with abnormal levels. People experiencing diabetes, extreme fatigue, heart disease, impotence or joint disease OR who have family members diagnosed with Haemochomatosis should be directly tested for the ailment.

Haemochromatosis is not usually diagnosed until the age of 40 in men and until after menopause in women. It takes that long for the iron to build up to symptomatic levels.

The only effective treatment for Haemochromatosis is for the patient to have regular phlebotomies (blood letting). Since the iron gets stored in the blood, removing the iron rich blood forces the body to produce new, iron-weak blood. 1-4 phlebotomies per year will prevent the iron from building up to dangerous levels. The reason that women don't show symptoms until after menopause is that menstruation is an effective blood letting treatment which keeps their iron saturation low.

Since this sick is extremely treatable and rarely deadly, but since its only treatment is blood-letting, I give it a

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

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Tetanus is a bacterial infection caused by the microbe Clostridium Tetani. Clostridium Tetani releases a neurotoxin called tetanospasmin which causes the scheletal muscle fibers in the human body to contract uncontrollably. The Tetanus bacteria is most often introduced to the body via a cut or puncture wound, but there are also cases of neonatal tetanus, caused by nonsterile removal of the umbilicus from a non-immune infant. In modernized countries, infants are typically born with temporary immunity to tetanus because mothers who are up to date on their tetanus vaccines will automatically pass their immunity to their offspring.

Everyone is familiar with the idea that if you step on a rusty nail, you should get a tetanus shot, but tetanus infections have little to do with rust. Rather, any puncture or cut from a non-sterile object (such as a dirty needle) or an animal bite or scratch could introduce tetanus if the bacteria is present. Rust might increase the likelihood that the bacteria is present on the object because it forms a rough surface to which the bacteria can easily stick.

Symptoms of Tetanus usually begin within 3-21 days. Like Rabies, the disease takes longer to manifest if the point of introduction is located far away from the Central Nervous System. The first symptoms of General Tetanus include tightness in the jaw (lockjaw) and facial spasms, which cause a characteristic grin called risus sardonicus. These symptoms progress into neck stiffness, difficulty swallowing and pectoral and calf rigidity. Victims also experience fevers, sweating, high blood pressure and rapid heart rate. People in the throws of full blown tetanus will have instense full-body spasms refered to as Opisthotonus, in which the body involuntarily forms an arch.

The most effective way to avoid Tetanus is through vaccination, and the first form of treatment for a suspected infection is prophylactic vaccination. However, once the disease is symptomatic, treatment consists of life preserving measures such as assisted breathing, intravenous valium and high calorie tube feeding.

Mortality from tetanus is currently 11%.

Because of it's limited mortality but horrible manifestations I give Tetanus a
4 on my "lethality scale" (1-10)
and a 6 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a rapidly progressing cancer of the myeloid line of white blood cells. In AML, the myeloid white blood cells mutate and begin to rapidly replicate themselves. These harmful versions of the myeloid cells take residence in the bone marrow preventing healthy blood cells from being created. Since the body needs healthy red and white blood cells to fight infection and process oxygen, the destruction of these cells leads to heart damage, hypoxia and infection. Though there is chemotherapy treatment for Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the survival rate is extremely low, with estimates of survival around the 20% mark.

The disease has no definitive cause, though there are a number of factors which can make occurance of the illness more likely. These include:

  • Down Syndrome

  • Preleukemic Blood Disorders

  • Exposure to Chemotherapy

  • Exposure to Radiation

One of the major issues with Myeloid Leukemia is that its symptoms are often subtle. Many victims feel run-down or have flu-like symptoms. Others may experience unusual bruising or swelling of the gums. However, this particular type of Leukemia is so rapid (with death occuring within weeks to months of onset without treatment) that the disease has often gotten to an advanced stage before it is noticed. People even die of the illness before being diagnosed.

This type of cancer is, thankfully, extremely rare. Only 1.2% of cancer deaths in the US are from Myeloid Leukemia.

Due to the aggressive and deadly nature of this sick, I rate it a:

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

and a 7 on my "disturbing scale" (1-10)