What is an Outbreak Disease?

Jessica Ellis

An outbreak disease is a contagious illness with the potential to create epidemics. Passed through air, person-to-person contact, or by consuming contaminated sources, these infectious diseases can result in worldwide sickness and fatalities. Although an outbreak disease can occur in any country, areas with poor medical and infrastructure systems are likely to suffer far worse in the event of an epidemic, experiencing fewer recoveries and more fatalities.

Properly washing hands can help prevent the spread of diseases.
Properly washing hands can help prevent the spread of diseases.

One of the first recorded instances of an outbreak disease is the Black Death or Bubonic plague of the 14th century. Estimates suggest that nearly half of the European population was killed by the plague, a a number probably greatly enhanced as a result of poor hygiene and limited medical understanding. Mortality rates of plague victims are believed to have been greater than 80% and although the 14th century outbreak is the best known, experts believe that the plague continued to ravage humanity in waves until the 18th century.

An outbreak disease like Black Death or bubonic plague can be spread by rats and other pests.
An outbreak disease like Black Death or bubonic plague can be spread by rats and other pests.

Some may surmise that modern medicine prevents an outbreak disease such as the plague from happening today, but this is far from true. Although medical studies have provided cures and treatments for many illnesses, some diseases continue to be untreatable, or worse, mutate to survive treatment. From the dreaded influenza outbreaks of World War One to the swine flu panic of 2009, the fears and reality of outbreak diseases remain constantly present in human society.

Outbreak diseases can mutate into a more contagious form.
Outbreak diseases can mutate into a more contagious form.

Since the mid-20th century, one persistent and difficult outbreak disease has been the AIDS virus. Passed through blood or bodily fluids, this outbreak disease is responsible for more than 25 million deaths since recording began in the 1980s. Although treatments now exist to defend against the disease once contracted, they are often prohibitively expensive and require a level of treatment not available in many poor areas. As a result, nearly 70% of all AIDS victims live in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is so prevalent in many African areas, life expectancy may be as low as 35 years in some places.

Confectious diseases can be spread through air, person-to-person contact, or by consuming contaminated sources.
Confectious diseases can be spread through air, person-to-person contact, or by consuming contaminated sources.

Influenza remains a constantly frightening form of outbreak disease. In mild forms, the illness can cause a few days of nausea or vomiting, fever, and exhaustion. Occasionally, however, the outbreak disease can mutate into a form that makes it far more contagious and far more deadly. Even in normal flu seasons, the infection can kill about 500,000 people throughout the world. Although treatments such as flu shots may ward off the flu, there is also fear that widespread use will cause treatment-resistant strains to develop. Like any other organism, viruses are driven to survive, and may mutate to remain in existence.

An outbreak disease is a concept capable of spreading as much terror as infection. Unfortunately, disease is unlikely ever to be completely eradicated from the Earth. For now, proper hygiene, avoiding exposure during outbreaks, and seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms appear may be the best way to stay safe in the face of an outbreak disease. In the case of diseases spread through bodily fluids, wearing proper protective gear when in contact with these substances is crucial to avoiding infection.

The typical flu season can kill about 500,000 people worldwide.
The typical flu season can kill about 500,000 people worldwide.

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