Here’s the Disease With the Highest Mortality Rate That You Can Catch Right Now

Here’s the Disease With the Highest Mortality Rate That You Can Catch Right Now

If you’re both a hypochondriac and an animal lover, I would highly encourage you to skip this one. Hypochondria isn’t something I personally suffer from, but I do have an enduring, horrible curiosity for the worst things that could ever happen to me, which leads to plenty of unwelcome knowledge. Thankfully, I have a platform like Cracked with which to share that information with the wider public. Today’s bit of “oh no” inducing trivia is what exactly the worst possible disease you could unexpectedly catch is, in terms of mortality rate.

Two quick clarifications before we get into the unfortunate details: First, there is technically one disease that tops this one. That’s some form of transmissible spongiform encephelopathy, like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Outside of a genetic predisposition, which, a thousand times “yeesh” to that, it is technically transmissible, but that would involve interacting with or eating the brain or spinal tissue of someone infected with it, which seems easy to avoid. Secondly, I need to clarify what I mean by “mortality rate.” Really, I’m talking about “case fatality rate,” or CFR, which is the percentage of people diagnosed with a disease that end up dying from it. Mortality rate, scientifically, is a whole lot more squirrely, and most laymen that talk about mortality rate probably mean case fatality rate. 

Anyway, you can see how all that is tough to fit in a title.


Look at this little angel of death.

Moving forward through the gates of hellish knowledge: The disease that takes this awful little crown is one you’re probably quite familiar with. It might also surprise you to know that it’s one that’s absolutely still around, and not some infection that ran roughshod through the population before we figured out things like hand-washing and penicillin. The disease in question is rabies. 

You’re probably now asking, “Didn’t we cure that?” and the answer is… kinda. We do now have vaccines for rabies, as well as ones administered as PEP, or “post-exposure prophylaxis,” which you might have received if you’ve been unlucky enough to be on the other side of a foamy raccoon. Every one of these treatments, however, are preventative. If you actually display symptoms, it’s probably curtains for your consciousness.

An actual rabies infection that isn’t prevented from taking hold by timely inoculation has a case fatality rate of over 99 percent. And it's closer to the 100 side than the 99 side. As in, according to Scientific American circa 2008, only one person has ever survived rabies without receiving the vaccine. Medical students are told that if they diagnose someone with rabies and that person doesn’t die in the next few days, they were wrong

Even worse, if you’re unlucky enough to get saddled with rabies, your last days are going to be far from peaceful. As it progresses, you’ll suffer from delirium, hallucinations, insomnia and a fear of water. It’s such a nightmare that some people think infections in the past were the inspiration for lore of modern monsters like vampires and zombies.

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