Deadliest disease

What is the deadliest disease? Quickest onset of death?

Severe allergy? It goes undetected until it hits, and then can kill in minutes if not properly treated. How long it exists before becoming deadly depends upon the time period between first and second exposure. But it could be argued that it is not a disease but a tendency until the moment of second exposure. . .

If you are looking specifically for a microbe-related (contagious) illness, then I’d guess Ebola.

I’m assuming that nerve agents and the like aren’t “diseases”

Heart disease usually takes years to “catch”, but it can kill instantly.

Depends on what is meant by 'disease".

A condition like a brain-stem cerebral hemorrage can kill instantly, like being shot through the head. That’s probably the fastest possible way to die, either that or a heart attack.

If you mean infectious disease, I dunno. Ebola is pretty fast, but even that typically takes a week or more to kill.

Edit: I’d change my vote to severe malaria, an attack of which can kill in hours.

Deadliest probably goes to rabies. Untreated, it has a practically 100% fatality rate. There has been, I believe, one person who survived it, and unconfirmed rumors of a few more.

How about some Ebola?

I looked into it. While its symptoms are famously horrible, it is neither 100% fatal (more like 50-90% depending on type) nor particularly fast.

Ebola has a well earned reputation but it’s not as bad as people make out.

Ebola depends on a lot of factors. First of all is localized immunity. Random testing in outbreak areas show some people have some sort of resistance to it. Also how you get Ebola is a factor. From the book “Virus Hunters” they discoverd during the Zaire and Sudan outbreaks of the 70s, if you got the Ebola virus from a contaminated needle the death rate was about 90%. Those who got infected through ritualized cleaning the bodies of dead victims had a 60% death rate, while nurses and family members who caught it through improper barrier nursing had about 15% death rate.

So it not Ebola, while very serious is not as bad as the books make out. Marburg Virus is virtually identical to Ebola (the only reason it’s not considered Ebola is the fact Marburg produces different antibodies to causal agent. Acutally Marburg was found in the 60s way before Ebola) and has a similar death rate, but in the years since 2000 it definately is getting less lethal, in outbreaks.

Ebola, Marburg and Lassa Fever, “the big three” of African Hemorrhagic Fevers, can be predicted if you know when you got it. If you get infected with 24 hours they can look at your immune system response and see from the rate of antibody formation and how the count of such, how severe the illness will be in you.

Then you can have a disease like Cholera which kills through dehydration and kills fast. But Cholera isn’t as bad as the death toll indicates. In almost all cases of Cholera if you can keep patient fully hydrated, the person can fight Cholera all by themselves. It’s the rapid dehydration and the lack of ability to replace body fluids that makes Cholera so problematic.

Meningococcal meningitis can kill a healthy 18-year-old in hours. Headache at noon, coma at supper, dead by bedtime. Sadly, I’ve seen it.

If you want to know which disease has 100 percent mortality, look to rabies (although, recently, there’s been at least one survivor).

Free full text link (I think).


Meningococcal meningitis is my big parental paranoia. Every time my kid has had a headache and thrown up while running a fever, I’ve been all “Put your chin on your chest for me, honey” while I obsess over anything that even looks like a red spot on his skin.

For quickness, during 1918 flu there were documented cases of people in apparently excellent health boarding a street car and dying en route to their stop.

They had Captain Trips in 1918?


Well, the Spanish Influenza of 1918 (not actually Spanish in origin) was about the closest thing to Captain Trips. The mortality rate wasn’t anywhere near 100%, but it infected nearly everyone, and it certainly could kill you in hours.

We need a bit more specific definition of deadliest here.

  • most likely fatal? – probably rabies, which is basically 100% fatal, even when treated.
  • kills the most people? – probably malaria, which has the highest world-wide death toll each year. (Excluding those related to starvation, which isn’t actually a disease.)
  • fastest progression onset-to-death? – probably neurological infections, with the Mmningococcal meningitis karlgauss mentioned a likely possibility. Next possibility would be the influenza/pneumonia type diseases, but they are usually slower because human lungs have an oversized capacity.

And this is all assuming that by saying disease you are excluding deaths caused by human or animal attack, poisons, etc.

I came in to post this, nothing scares me like purple spots. I’ve been down this road a few times, as I’m sure Picunurse has too. My last pt. survived but lost both legs at the knees and all the fingers on both hands, plus miscellaneous skin grafting.

I always thought this one was the one:

“Pneumonic plague is a very aggressive infection requiring early treatment. To reduce the risk of death, antibiotics must be given within 24 hours of first symptoms … Without treatment, the mortality rate from pneumonic plague approaches 100%”

There’s been mention upthread about infection with Marburg and Ebola viruses. Although the death rate from them is high, ranging from about 20 to 90 percent, those of us who live outside of central Africa don’t need to worry about contracting them.

But we in North America have not been completely left out of the highly lethal virus sweepstakes. No, we get to be vigilant for Hantavirus. First noted in North America in 1993 (New Mexico), mortality rates at that time were observed to be around 75 percent. Not to worry, though. More recent data indicates that mortality for Hantavirus is only about 35 percent. Phew!

No more picking up mouse droppings with your fingers, y’hear!

The link mentions that Ms. Giese still had “dysarthria” after discharge from the hospital. I guess I was correct in the last thread about rabies when I said that in her Youtube videos it seems like her speech has been slightly affected.