(HealthyResearch.com) – It’s that time of year again: The countdown to Halloween has begun, and the dark and spooky are flocking in hordes for their yearly moment in the spotlight. The world is filled with all sorts of creepy, cringe-worthy facts, but some of the spookiest revolve around human health.
Some details can be downright terrifying. Countless threats turn unsuspecting people’s lives into living horror stories every day. Here are five health facts that will make even the bravest person’s skin crawl.
1. Parasites Abound
There’s a whole host of parasites capable of infecting humans, and they can have varying modes of transmission. One of the creepiest is Trypanosoma cruzi. This blood parasite, the source of Chagas disease, can lead to lifelong pain, inflammation and gastrointestinal issues, with some sufferers dying of heart complications. What causes the real creep factor, however, is how most people catch this malady.
A type of insect called a triatomine bug, also known as a “kissing bug,” passes it along. Kissing bugs feed on blood, and they seem to prefer to bite sleeping humans on the face, where they typically feed for 10 to 25 minutes. Here’s where it gets dreadful: During or shortly after feeding, these nasty insects tend to defecate, and their feces is where the T. cruzi parasite resides. When the victim scratches around the bite, they rub the infected fecal matter into it, introducing the parasite to the bloodstream.
2. “Flesh-Eating Bacteria” Are Real
Most cuts and scrapes heal on their own without any problems — but not when they become infected with necrotizing fasciitis. Attacks from “flesh-eating bacteria,” believed to be the result of strep bacteria on the skin that grows out of control, are extremely aggressive and fast-spreading. The disease begins as warmth, swelling and other visible signs of infection, quickly progressing to blisters, ulcers or black patches that weep or ooze. The sufferer may also feel weak, dizzy and nauseated.
Left untreated, this infection can lead to sepsis or a serious systemic infection that can be life-threatening. One in three people who develops this complication will die from it. People with diabetes, kidney disease, cirrhosis of the liver or cancer are the most susceptible.
3. An Infection Can Be Disfiguring
Most of us have dealt with some kind of swelling at least once, but no one ever expects it to last forever. In the case of elephantiasis, what starts off looking like normal swelling soon becomes massive enlargement and disfigurement of one or more limbs. It occurs due to blockages in the lymph system, which normally runs throughout the body and clears out infections. When lymph fluid isn’t able to drain properly, it pools and accumulates in the tissues.
Elephantiasis has many causes, but most are infectious. Tuberculosis, leishmaniasis, leprosy and even repeated strep infections may trigger it. In some cases, there’s an environmental cause; in a rare few, no cause is ever determined.
4. “Mad Cow” Symptoms Can Occur Without Tainted Meat
Of all the ways a person might die, prion diseases might be among the most horrific. Consider, for example, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), the human equivalent to “mad cow,” which can affect coordination, speech and other functions until it finally kills its victim. What’s even scarier is that Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) can occur spontaneously in some people — no tainted beef required.
Fatal familial insomnia, another prion disease that hits genetically predisposed people, causes many of the same symptoms as CJD, including hallucinations, coordination problems and dementia, but it has one more sadistic trick to add: One night, sufferers find they cannot fall asleep… and then they’re never able to fall asleep, ever again. Death usually comes swiftly in most of these cases, with most sufferers dying within a year of symptom onset.
5. There Are People Cursed to Become Living Stone
Imagine slowly being transformed into stone, limbs getting stiffer and stiffer as the months pass, more and more flesh hardening and losing its elasticity. Sounds like something out of a horror story, right? It’s also what happens when a person develops fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), which causes muscle, tendons and connective tissue to become replaced by bone. FOP is genetic, caused by a mutated gene.
The transformation is gradual and episodic, each permanent change spurred by injury, inflammation or some other type of physical trauma. Even bouts of the flu can trigger another attack. FOP can cause serious disability, in some cases impairing a sufferer’s ability to eat, breathe and perform other basic functions. There’s no treatment, and surgeries to attempt to remove affected areas often result in additional bone growth.
Reality can be infinitely more bizarre and terrifying than fiction. Scary stories might offer a thrill, but only to remind us that real horrors are out there, and not one of us is completely safe. This Halloween, when all the ghouls and ghosts come out, remember that monsters come in all shapes and sizes. The ones that can infect us, or even ones locked deep within our DNA, can be the scariest of them all.
~Here’s to Your Health & Safety!
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