The Rare and Deadly Diseases You Might Not Know About, but Should

While there are many common life-threatening diseases you probably already know about, chances are you’re unfamiliar with rare ones. A disease that’s considered rare means that it affects fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. a year, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute, but that shouldn’t stop you from being cautious, because many of them can be deadly. That being said, the organization mentioned this includes close to 7,000 diseases. Clearly it’s worth narrowing things down a bit to better understand how to protect yourself. To help you get started, check out these five rare but deadly diseases.

1. Tuberculosis

Chest X-ray of child

TB is a very serious disease. | iStock.com/stockdevil

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial disease that usually affects the lungs. Once it enters into the system, it’s possible for the bacteria to be harmless, only causing an infection. However, if the body isn’t able to stop the bacteria from activating and multiplying, it can cause TB disease, which can be deadly if it’s not treated properly.

2. Malaria

Mosquito sucking blood on human skin

An infected mosquito can spread malaria. | iStock.com/auimeesri

Malaria can result from a bite from an infected marsh mosquito that’s carrying a specific parasite, which is most common in tropical and subtropical areas. According to the CDC, there were 214 million cases of the disease around the world in 2015, and 1,500 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. annually. It might not compare to heart disease, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.

3. Dengue fever

woman itching her hand

Be careful of this disease if you’re in the tropics. | iStock.com

Another deadly disease to be cautious of when traveling to tropical and subtropical areas, dengue fever is also spread by mosquitoes. WebMD says 96 million diseases result from mosquito bites each year. While it’s not so common in the U.S., risk has increased for southern states, especially for those along the Texas-Mexico border. Symptoms usually last for up to 10 days and start sometime between four to six days after being bitten. Some to look out for include sudden fever, skin rash, nose bleeds, bleeding gums, and pain behind the eyes. There’s no vaccine, so you’ll want to make sure to dress appropriately and practice mosquito control methods in affected areas.

4. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

diagram of a human brain

This disorder can really mess with your brain. | iStock.com

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is a very rare, irreversible brain disorder. Mayo Clinic says it causes dementia, and ultimately leads to death. Symptoms like memory loss, blurred vision, anxiety, and trouble speaking or swallowing may be initial warning signs. However, CJD progresses very quickly and often leads to death within a year. According to the CDC, only about 1 to 1.5 cases per 1 million people are diagnosed in the U.S. annually. Still, the most recent data shows approximately 478 deaths resulted from the disease four years ago. That’s the highest level included in results spanning from 1979 to 2013.

5. Tetanus

hammer and nails

Tetanus is rare, but it can cause major problems. | iStock.com

Also known as lockjaw, the CDC says tetanus is an extremely rare bacterial disease that averages 30 reported cases annually. However, for those who are diagnosed, it can be deadly. According to Mayo Clinic, tetanus is caused by harmful bacteria that can be found in dust, soil, and animal feces. If it somehow enters into the body through an open wound, toxins can develop, which then impact the nervous system. This can cause fatal muscle contractions in the neck and jaw that make it hard to breathe. Trouble swallowing, painful body spasms, and stiff abdominal or neck muscles are all common symptoms. While there’s no cure for the disease, there is a vaccine for it. Make sure to stay up-to-date with your immunizations to protect yourself from life-threatening illnesses like this one.

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