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July 19th, 2012, 14:03
In a possible series of favourite bad things, I give you my favourite really bad germs. Loooong rant.

What are the most deadly germs? Depends on what we mean by deadly. Is it those with highest death rate among the infected, or should we consider those who kill(ed) most people globally? The Ebola virus is a very aggressive nastie, killing up to 90% of the patiens. However the number of infected is small (2200 known cases since 1976). Contrast this with influenza which normally kills far below 1% of the infected, but due to the number of infected, 250 000-500 000 die each year globally. Here I consentrate on the aggressive ones.

For bacteria, I give you the Clostridium genus. These are strictly anaerobe bacteriae, can't stand oxygene, but there are quite a lot of places where they survive. From a medical point of view, deep wounds and dead tissues are particularly interesting. And being spore forming bacteria, they can survive under conditions that normally would kill them. Among the perps are:

1. C. botulinum, the maker of the mighty botulinum toxine (aka botox), an extremely powerful neurotoxine. Give me a couple of kilos and a perfect distribution system, and the whole human population is history. Still the most toxic substance known to man.
2. C. tetani, responsible for another potent neurotoxine, the tetanus toxine which causes - surprise, surprise - tetanus. Untreated, mortality is 40-70%. Fortunately efficient treatment and prevention procedures have reduced the number of deaths significantly. Still, this is a germ with potential.
3. C. perfringens. This one can give you gas gangrene, tissue necrosis and gas production. A fast developing. lethal medical emergency.

I should perhaps also mention Yersinia pestis, the plague bacteria which has killed millions upon millions. Untreated mortality rate is in the 50-90% ranged treated 1-10% die (depending on the organs affected). In addition, the number of infected has been drastically reduced, between 1989 and 2003 around 40 000 patients were infected each year, mostly sporadic cases and small epidemics involving up to 1000 patients. There is of course at least one black metal/death metal band called Yersinia Pestis.

Now on to the viruses. There are several nasty ones here, we have smallpox (30-35% death rate), HIV (previously 100% lethal withinn 10 years, now life expectancy approximates the uninfected), those behind the hemorrhagic fevers (several viruses, lethality for many of them is around 30%, for Ebola as said up to 90%)

But one virus which beats them all is rabies virus. Now, if receiving immunotherapy before symptoms arise, nearly 100% of patients are cured. But after onset of symptoms, with veeeery few exceptions, mortality is 100%. 50 000 people die each year from rabies. There are in total less than 10 known survivors in total. Fortunately few become infected.

Now imagine a virus with the lethality of rabies, and the infectivity of influenza, or even worse: measles. Is there anybody out there?!?

I'll finish with one particularly interesting infective agent. The prion. Not a bacteria, not a virus, actually it's not a germ at all. It's a protein molecule. Prion proteins occur normally in our cells and are usually harmless. But in some cases they change into a pathological form, and when that happens they start accumulating in the cells, destroying them, especially in the central nervous system. Further, if transferred to another subject, these misbehaving proteins induce the same changes in the recipient, spreading the disease. This agent is responsible for Creutzefeldt Jacobs disease in humans (rapidly developing dementia and death in 4-5 months), scrapies in sheep and the mad cow disease (BSE for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy).

On a side note, many of the germs have beautiful names: "Yersinia" and the jhemorrhagic fever viruses "Hanta", "Junin", "Sabia" and "Machupo". I quite often use them when naming my roleplaying characters.

pibbur who regrets he didn't specialize in microbiology.
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Last edited by pibbur who; July 19th, 2012 at 15:11.
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