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Health Threats: Not Just Ebola

How many of these deadly bugs are you protected against?

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    Seems Like the First Time

    En español | A disease without an apparent treatment or cure threatens to spread at exponential rates. The less we know, the more we fear. To put our reactions to the Ebola virus into perspective, here’s a look at pandemics through the ages.

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    Deadly by Any Name

    Plagues claimed tens of millions of ancient Greeks and Romans, but probably none resonates as much today as the bubonic plague during the 14th century, which was spread by rats and fleas. The Black Death wiped out as many as 75 million people, including about half the population of Europe.        

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    Typhus: If War Doesn't Kill You …

    Spread by lice, epidemic typhus — not to be confused with “typhoid fever” — often struck military war camps, though it also claimed the son of President Franklin Pierce and Holocaust diarist Anne Frank. Mostly controlled by a mid-20th-century vaccine, typhus still arises during wars and natural disasters.

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    Cholera: Still Deadly After All These Years

    Cholera, caused by contaminated water and food, and poor sanitation, remains a major public health menace in much of the world, particularly for young children. Pandemics in the 19th and 20th centuries killed tens of millions of people.

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    Measles: Preventable, Yet Still Deadly

    Before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths a year worldwide. Since 1980, that number has fallen dramatically, but measles still claims more than 100,000 victims (mostly young children) each year.

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    TB: Resistance

    Tuberculosis has been featured prominently in many operas and movies — from Puccini’s La Boheme to Greta Garbo’s Camille. Once the leading cause of death in the United States, the disease responds to treatment, but resistant strains are a growing concern.

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    The Spanish Flu of 1918

    Although it didn’t originate in Spain, the Spanish flu took a high toll there. It also caused America’s worst pandemic, when three waves through 1918 and 1919 killed more than 600,000 in the United States and as many as 50 million people worldwide.

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    Flu: From Birds to Swine and Beyond

    In the wake of the 1918 pandemic, influenza — adaptable and easily spread — has killed Americans in 1957 (Asian flu) and 1968 (Hong Kong flu). Avian (bird) flu has been a concern since 2003, and swine flu since 2009.

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    Polio: A Disease of Summer

    Polio, or infantile paralysis, affected both children and adults (such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was diagnosed with the disease at 39). Epidemics in the summer months of 1916 and 1952 caused widespread panic. Virologist Jonas Salk developed the first safe and effective polio vaccine in 1955.

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    Smallpox: A Terror Tamed

    Smallpox began as early as 10,000 B.C. Until eradicated worldwide through vaccination (the last reported case occurred in 1977), the disease, which has no treatment or cure, killed perhaps half a billion people in the 20th century alone.

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    Legionnaire's Disease: A Medical Mystery

    In 1976, after returning home from a convention of American legionnaires at a Philadelphia hotel, some attendees fell ill and 34 died. Six months later, researchers found a bacillus called Legionella pneumophila breeding in the cooling towers of the hotel’s air-conditioning system.

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    SARS: Spread Fast, Quickly Contained

    A form of pneumonia, sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) spread from China to more than two dozen countries in 2002 and 2003 before it was stopped. More than 8,000 cases were reported, and about 10 percent were fatal (none in the United States).

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    HIV/AIDS

    In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a rare lung infection in five young, previously healthy gay men. Scientists soon learned that HIV/AIDS is not restricted to any one group. While about 36 million people have died of AIDS, more than 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.

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Video: Director Thomas Frieden on Zika and Influenza - Thomas Frieden, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, discusses the threats of Zika and influenza, and the best way to protect oneself.

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