Top 5 Things You Didn’t Know Could Spread Disease

Dec 16, 2013, 12:38 PM


Outbreaks can advance quickly and through a wide variety of vectors. We all know to be wary of mosquitos and ticks, but there are plenty of other ways diseases can spread that may not be top of mind for most. This is where food safety and other precautions around wild animals can help. But never fear. We have compiled a list of the top five strangest things that can spread disease so you can be prepared.


(Image source: WikiCommons)

5. Bats

While their mythical status as vampires in another form might be what scares some people about bats, what’s even scarier is their potential to spread disease. A species of bats in China are believed to have helped spread SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which killed more than 750 people worldwide between 2002 and 2003. Researchers found two SARS-like viruses in horseshoe bats found in China, suggesting that they could have been the origin of the human pandemic.


(Image source: Flickr, The 621st Contigency Response Wing)

4. “Tough Mudder” races

Adventure-themed races such as “Tough Mudders” are on the rise in popularity for their challenging take on physical activity that combines traditional running races with obstacle courses and team challenges. The fun take on physical activity is a boon, but they could also be serving as hotbeds for contagious viruses like norovirus, which can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Norovirus can be contracted from contact with an infected person, contaminated food or water, or touching a contaminated surface. Rolling around in the mud with a couple hundred other racers in an event like a Tough Mudder is a good way to facilitate the exchange of any diseases that may be present. One such event in Michigan was linked to more than 200 reports of gastrointestinal symptoms.

Community members play in a drum circle.

(Image source: WikiCommons)

3. Drum Circles

The next time you get together with some of your closest friends or community members for a drum circle, be sure to be careful with the animal skins that are used to cover the drums. In 2009, a woman in New Hampshire reported severe flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps. A round of blood cultures and exploratory surgery led to a diagnosis of gastrointestinal anthrax infection. Apparently the animal skins covering several of the drums were harboring healthy colonies of anthrax spores that were aerosolized by the act of drumming and then infected the unassuming drummers.


(Image source: Flickr, scatto felino)

2. Kissing

Though showing intimacy through a kiss can be great for building a relationship, it can also help spread diseases like infectious mononucleosis (mono). The virus that causes mono is transmitted through contact with saliva, which is how it got the nickname “the kissing disease.” Mono affects about 45 of 100,000 people, mostly teens and young adults. Kissing also can increase chances of exchanging other communicable diseases too, like the common cold.

And NewPublicHealths number one spreader of disease that can surprise people...

Boy plays at the Overlook Child Development Center.

(Image source: Flickr, bruna benvegnu)

1. An Unvaccinated Child

While in the U.S., vaccination programs have eliminated or significantly reduced many vaccine-preventable diseases, these diseases still exist and can once again become common—and deadly—if vaccination coverage does not continue at high levels. Despite the recommendations of medical experts that vaccines are effective and that research has shown vaccines to be safe, on average, an estimated 45,000 adults and 1,000 children die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States. More than 2 million children under the age of 3 do not receive all recommended vaccinations, leaving them vulnerable for preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough, which have both experienced recent resurgences in areas of the United States. Only two states and D.C. met the HHS goals of vaccinating 90 percent of 19-to 35-month-olds against whooping cough, leaving many young children susceptible.

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.