The World’s Ten Grossest Diseases
10. Fatal Familial Insomnia
Incurable hereditary disease of the brain that stops you sleeping completely. Then you die. The gene responsible is found in just 28 families worldwide.
It’s caused by a protein mutation that causes plaque to develop on the thalamus – the region of the brain responsible for sleep. The disease begins at around the age of 50. The first symptom is insomnia, resulting in panic attacks and phobias. Soon hallucinations begin. Then there’s a complete inability to sleep, followed by rapid weight loss.
Unsurprisingly, after months huddled in front of the TV in the witching hour flicking between Christian City TV, half hour ads for “Time Life’s Best Ballads of all time 8 CD collection” and re-runs of Hotdogs’ Up Late, the sufferer becomes demented and mute. Then they die. There’s no cure.
Ten metre parasitic worms that live in the digestive tract. They use their head to attach to the intestine and have a segmented body containing male and female sexual organs, which are shed. These segments – resembling a grain of rice – can, scarily, move on their own, and can pop out whenever they want.
Tapeworms are caught from eating poorly cooked meat. They are treated with a single pill. However the worms, which can live inside you for up to 10 years, go through a half hour of death throes – squirming, twisting and having spasms inside you in the process. When killed, the parasite must be removed from the body – in a literal hand-over-hand process. All the time you can feel it slithering gently through your digestive tract. Nice.
But that’s not bad at all, at least relatively. Some species of tapeworm can migrate into surrounding tissues and eventually different organ systems. Larvae develop into large fluid filled cysts after travelling in the blood stream all over the body. When cysts are present in the central nervous system they can lead to seizure, dementia and irreversible brain damage. It’s said the “ye olde” treatment involved starving the patient, tying them down and hanging a piece of meat in front of their mouth and waiting to grab the emerging tapeworm. Unfortunately that could not be substantiated.
8. Chronic Hiccups
Chronic Hiccups can last for over a month – the longest case is 68 years for a total of 430 million hiccups. Long bouts can lead to depression, weight loss, insomnia, physical pain and exhaustion. Though even foetuses hiccup, they don’t seem to have any purpose.
Home remedies for curing them include breathing into a paper bag, standing on your head, and drinking from the far side of the glass. Clinical trials show that sex can stop hiccups and as a regular sufferer, I assure you the opposite is also the case.
7. Human Maggot Infestation
The sufferer is literally eaten alive by maggots. Caused when the larvae of the fleshfly or blowfly begin to feed on the person’s tissue, quickly spreading through the body. The larvae are originally laid in an open wound, a weeping sore or in the mouth, nose or ears. Sometimes maggots are introduced on purpose to sores that aren’t healing to eat the dead tissue. Once the larvae have finished feeding they mature and metamorphoses into either adult blowflies, Hillsong pastors, used car salesmen or motivational speakers.
When a cateplexy sufferer laughs, they drop to the floor paralysed for five minutes. Cateplexy is often suffered by narcoleptics – those who fall asleep uncontrollably. Many also hallucinate. It is believed when they laugh, get angry or are surprised, they instantly go into REM sleep – a process that usually takes hours.
5. Water Poisoning
If you drink too much water you can die. OK, so it’s not really a disease but it’s still pretty cool. Basically if you drink heaps you dilute the electrolytes in your blood and your cells expand and eventually explode. Most deaths have been from water drinking contests or Marathon runners who keep drinking water without replenishing electrolyte supplies. A famous recent case last year involved a 28-year-old Californian mother of three who was found dead in her home after trying to win a Nintendo Wii game console in a radio competition called “Hold Your Wee for a Wii”.
Anthrax starts with a scary name and just gets worse. It’s a spore carrying bacterium you get from exposure to infected animal tissue. It is scary because anthrax spores lie dormant for decades in soil, infect an animal, feed on it until it’s gone, then lie dormant again.
There are three types – skin, inhaled and intestinal. Ninety-five percent of natural cases are skin – you get a painless black ulcer and probably won’t die. Intestinal anthrax has you vomiting blood, and there’s a good chance you’ll die. Inhalation Anthrax is usually fatal – you get it if you’re slicing buttons from animal horn or stretching skin to make drums, and you inhale the spores.
Of course, Anthrax is most famed as a biological weapon. It was used in 1978 by the Rhodesian government during its war with black nationalists. The UK tested it on a Scottish island, rendering it uninhabitable for 50 years and the US once had a spill that forced them to seal an entire building with glue and plastic. The UK and US armies routinely vaccinate their armies against it in certain war zones like Iraq. They knew Saddam had it because Republican Presidents Regean and Bush Snr still had the receipts in an old shoebox. After anthrax spores were mailed to American Senators and news outlets in 2001 many government organizations worldwide have been forced to use protective equipment when sorting mail. Thankfully ‘weaponised’ anthrax is very hard to make.
3. Alien Hand Syndrome
Sometimes called anarchic hand or Dr. Strangelove syndrome it’s when a person’s hand performs complex tasks without the person realising. It’s usually caused by the two sides of the brain being separated surgically or because of brain damage. Sometimes a sufferer mightn’t even be aware of what the alien hand is doing. Most simply believe their rogue limb is possessed by some spirit that they must fight or punish in order to regain control. Examples abound of sufferers putting cigarettes in their mouth with their good hand and reaching for a lighter while their other hand whips it out and throws it across the room. No, that’s just plain weird.
2. The Ebola Virus
Some strains of Ebola have the highest kill rates of any human virus. A strain of Ebola which broke out in Zaire had a fatality rate of 90%. Amazingly the high rate of fatality, and the speed with which it kills are two reasons the virus is not considered that dangerous, or in other words that a widespread epidemic is considered low – i.e. too many infected people, and die so quickly they don’t infect others. When you get it you get nausea, vomiting, and bloody diarrhoea – ho, hum I hear you say – yeah that’s before internal and external bleeding starts. Basically you start to liquefy from the inside out and your insides start coming out of every orifice. Thankfully it is not airborne and can only be passed by contact with bodily fluids.
1. Tree Man
OK, only one guy’s got it, but still it’s pretty horrid. Basically, he has the wart virus, but because he has a rare genetic fault that impedes his immune system his body it unable to contain the warts. The virus is then able to “hijack the cellular machinery of his skin cells”, and make them produce the tree-like growths on his hands and feet. Doctors hope to be able to give him some use of his hands by giving him massive doses of Vitamin A and by using surgery to cut off the worst of the growths.