What’s the scariest disease? September 23, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Black Death, plagues, scariest diseases, worst diseases
It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here to ask you all a question I was just wondering about: What’s today’s scariest disease?
As a history buff, I’m familiar with most of the scary diseases of the past: the black plague, aka the Black Death; leprosy; diphtheria; smallpox; tuberculosis; Spanish flu; cholera; typhoid fever; polio; bubonic plague; syphilis. Of course, all these diseases would be plenty scary if they were rampaging everywhere today, as the continuing flu scares remind us. But fortunately, most of them remain under such good control that they’ve become a part of history rather than a present threat. (Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of many Third World countries, where diseases like cholera still kill.)
What I was wondering was which of today’s dreaded diseases most people considered scariest. I’m not asking which one is the worst, but which is the one that’s most likely to give people nightmares: the most frightening, the horror movie of diseases. Is it cancer, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s? Or maybe HIV/AIDS, mad cow disease, West Nile disease, Ebola virus, malaria, avian flu, emphysema? Is there a top candidate based on its symptoms, or do we simply fear most the disease we think we’re most likely to get? (Cancer runs in my family, so it is the disease, or I should say, disease group, I most fear, while my grandfather was terrified of getting Alzheimer’s like a disproportionate number of his numerous siblings; mercifully, his fears proved ungrounded.) What do you think?
By now you may be wondering what put such a morbid topic in my mind to begin with. Was it reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel? Was it all you bloggers out there already getting excited about Hallowe’en and posting scary-cute photos of jack o’lanterns and other decorations?
Well, no. It was, believe it or not, finding a really great parody T-shirt about the plague. It’s a takeoff of the tour T-shirts rock groups sell at their tour stops. The front shows a giant rat with the words “Black Death: European Tour 1347-1351,” and the back shows a list of all the “tour stops.” Much as I love the shirt, it did start my mind wandering down this path. I wonder what the Londoners of Shakespeare’s day would think if they were transported to our world: no plagues, no typhoid fever, no smallpox, no syphilis, but instead rampant cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s. Most of their diseases were spread by crowding, ignorance of the causes and treatment of disease, vermin, and grossly unsanitary conditions. What’s spreading ours?
Now that I think of it, that may be the scariest question of all!