HEALTH NEWS

Scurvy? Leprosy? Typhoid Fever? They’re Still Around, Folks

Written by Kristen Fischer on January 8, 2016

Diseases

They’re the kinds of illnesses you only see on period television shows.

The Spanish flu, for example, hit a few of our favorite “Downton Abbey” characters while the sweating sickness swept through “The Tudors.”

The illnesses may be long gone, but others like them still exist or are making a comeback in different areas of our 21st century world.

Diseases

A variety of factors are blamed for the resurgence and/or stubbornness of once-powerful illnesses.

For instance, in the United Kingdom, malnutrition is the culprit for rising scurvy and rickets cases. A 2013 report links climate factors to dengue. And a lack of vaccinations has caused cases of measles to rise in the United States, although vaccinations continue to curb it elsewhere.

There are a few other illnesses that may not be considered epidemics, but in this day and age, you may be surprised they still exist.

Leprosy

The last time you heard about this may be when you watched “The Bible” (or read it), but there are about 100 new cases of this bacterial illness in the United States each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that there were nearly190,000 cases globally at the end of 2013.

Polio

Polio may have been common during the era when “Call the Midwife” is set, but the number of cases worldwide has fallen from 350,000 in 1988 to 407 in 2013.

The Americas, Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific have been declared polio-free.  A new report shows that 2016 could be the year polio officially becomes a thing of the past.  Last year, there were the fewest number of cases in history.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) has been around for thousands of years.

While the incidence and mortality rates are down overall, multi-drug resistant TB is still a problem — and rates of it are rising.

Dr. Clifton Barry, the head of the tuberculosis unit at the National Institutes of Health, released a recent TB report citing about 9 million cases worldwide each year. In 2013, there were 9,582 cases in the U.S.

“The USA's TB control program is among the best in the world,” Dr. Paul Sax, a Harvard Medical School professor, told Healthline.

Another source found that TB surpassed HIV in 2014 in terms of the number of people it killed worldwide.

Cholera

Contaminated food and water can spread cholera, which is blamed for 100,000 deaths each year around the world from 3 million to 5 million cases.

Sax said that the illness has grown to epidemic stage in Haiti over the past five years. It’s believed that U.N. peacekeeping troops from Nepal brought the disease to the Caribbean nation.

Typhoid Fever

A 2009 study linked infection with an antimicrobial-resistant strain of typhoid fever among patients in the United States to their recent international travel — namely, to the Indian subcontinent.

In the U.S., there are only about 300 cases a year. Study authors say there are about 20 million cases of the infection each year across the globe.

More drug-resistant strains have made it harder to treat the life-threatening infection, Sax noted. The bacteria are transmitted via food and water.  

Diphtheria

You may never have heard of diphtheria if you have never watched or read “Poldark,” but the infection was common from the 1600s to the 1800s.

In 1921, there were 206,000 cases of it in the U.S., but after that rates started to drop as a vaccine emerged.

No cases of diphtheria were reported in the U.S. from 2004 to 2008, although nearly 5,000 cases were reported around the world by WHO officials in 2011.

Yellow Fever

Global warming may be hindering the efficacy of a mosquito-fighting insecticide, permethrin.

This is causing concern about conditions such as dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever, according to a recent study in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

There are about 200,000 cases worldwide a year and 90 percent are in Africa, according to the WHO. Sax said he has not heard of a big increase in this illness, which is not common in the U.S.

Scarlet Fever

It sounds like an illness from the “olden days,” but scarlet fever is still around. The infection comes from the group A Streptococcus or "group A strep."

A 2015 study found that there were 5,746 cases of scarlet fever in Australia between September 2014 and March 2015, compared with 2,830 cases for the same period in 2013-2014.

A recent CNN report stated that studies for Britain's National Health Service found a rise in scarlet fever within the country. Hospital admissions are up 136 percent and there were 14,000 suspected cases in the past year. One source said the number of cases doubled between 2013 and 2014.

What’s Next?

“Some things [illnesses] are increasing [in the U.S.], but they aren't necessarily Victorian [era] diseases,” Sax said.

He added that infections related to injection drug use are a much bigger problem than they used to be. Tick-related infections and highly resistant bacteria are other more troublesome issues in epidemiology than what is considered old-time infections.

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