If you're reading this, you're almost certainly stuck indoors, maybe in a cubicle but certainly in some place that isn't a tropical beach. That's why we've always tried to provide the extremely critical public service of reminding you that things could be much, much worse.
So with that, let's look at these very real (although rare) infections that are so over-the-top bizarre that they'd be considered too gross for a David Cronenberg movie. No matter how this day goes, just be glad you don't have ...
Remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where everyone's face falls apart? Well, maybe that wasn't God punishing the Nazis after all, but fast-acting mucocutaneous leishmaniasis -- the infection that makes your face collapse like it's a sacred temple and someone just stole the idol at the center.
Face melting has finally moved beyond Nazis and thieving Frenchmen.
In reality, mucocutaneous leishmaniasis takes a lot longer to act (months, years or even decades), and it begins in the most offensive way possible: with insect poop. The infection is spread through a poorly mannered sand fly that bites you and then proceeds to thank you for the meal by taking a dump in the wound. So already we're starting with the kind of action that would make Hannibal Lecter crinkle his nose and say, "Jesus, man, what is wrong with you?"
Ladies and gentlemen, the tampon that destroys lives.
But that's just how the parasite gets inside you -- that's when the scene really gets nasty. The parasite starts going after mucus cavities, like your mouth and your nose. What it's doing is essentially planting TNT in all those places, preparing to blow them to hell.
The first thing you notice, a long time after the initial shit-bite, is painful ulcers in the infected places. If you're lucky, you're left disfigured for life -- if you're not, your nose collapses into your mouth and your entire face caves in like a punctured inflatable.
This would suck enough on its own, but it's aggravated by all the health implications: You can't breathe well (because, again, you have no nose), eating is painful and can cause you to choke and your exposed airway is considerably more prone to catching pneumonia.
After all that, even your own saliva can kill you, and often does. See, this is why you never leave your bedroom unless you're wearing your airtight anti-insect protection suit, and even then only during the winter. But we're just getting started ...
Gas gangrene is a condition that actually melts your flesh into gas and fluid, and is caused by the Clostridium perfringens bacteria. We won't show you images of it because they are gross, so here's the witch-melting scene from The Wizard of Oz instead. Just picture the same thing happening to you. Only much, much more slowly.
And without the whimsical creatures.
Gas gangrene won't dissolve your entire body, probably because you don't live long enough for that to happen: The infection is so devastating that it can kill you in 12 hours. As fast as that may seem, when you get to the part where your nerves begin to painfully dissolve into liquid, you'll wish it would just hurry the fuck up.
Oh hey, a close-up that doesn't make us want to kill ourselves.
The way it works is this: Once the bacteria gets into your system (usually through an improperly treated wound), it unleashes dozens of lethal toxins programmed to shear apart biological tissue, leaving behind liquefied flesh instead of pus as your body's way of saying "nothing to do here, pal." It also stops the blood flow to the infected limb, building up gas and turning your skin into human bubble wrap. The treatment for this infection hasn't changed a whole lot since the Civil War: It's called amputation.
And no one from the Civil War is alive today. Coincidence?
C. perfringens lives in dirt and is technically immortal (in extreme weather conditions, it turns into a nearly indestructible spore), which means that even if you survive, it can come back decades later to finish the job.
Oh, and here's our favorite part: It can survive perfectly well without becoming a parasite in a living body -- in other words, it melts your body simply because it can.
Imagine a parasite that spreads through your entire body, even covering your eyes and turning them opaque. If you immediately pictured the extraterrestrial black oil from The X-Files, we're pretty sure it's actually worse than that. We're talking about the onchocerciasis infection ... which, also like the black oil, eventually turns into worms. Huh.
The X-Files often mirrors real life in that it's complicated and Duchovny has sex with everyone.
The Onchocerca volvulus parasite spreads through black flies, a type of fly that breeds near fast-running rivers, and it's actually the second leading infection that causes blindness in the world. Upon biting you, the black fly infects you with microscopic larvae that begin moving through your body, right below the surface of your skin, harmlessly at first. Just regular old worms under your skin.
"We're just here to chill out, pray for the doom of man, eat eyeballs. No biggie."
But then the party starts: Once they mature, the adult parasites turn your body into the worst orgy you've been to -- not just because you're not getting any, but also because afterward you're stuck with a shitload of babies. And we mean a shitload: A single female can release 1,000 worms per day. And they're all crawling inside you. Under your skin.
Soon, there are over a hundred million microscopic worms spreading through your skin, lymph system and, yep, your eyeballs. Once the worms reach the surface of your cornea, it becomes inflamed, eventually causing it to turn opaque and leaving you blind (which may be a relief, actually, because we assume all you'd see at this point is giant worms everywhere).
You are pretty much more worms than human at this point.
So, yeah, that's pretty bad (and pretty gross), but don't think this thing is gonna go easy on you now that you're disabled. When the worms die, your immune system goes haywire, producing an intense itching in every place they reached, which is everyplace -- and you can't even scratch that itch, because it comes from under your skin. With treatment, this can last a few years; without it, you'll be scratching yourself everywhere and nowhere for the rest of your life. The disease itself is not lethal, but not surprisingly, the itching alone has apparently driven people to suicide.
"Stop asking me what I've forgotten!"
See? Now your little case of athlete's foot doesn't seem so bad, does it? This is what we're here for, to keep things in perspective. The rest of these infections are even worse, by the way ...