Special Report

How COVID Fatality Rates Compare With Other Deadly Diseases

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Diphtheria
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 5%-20%

Diphtheria is a bacterial infection that usually attacks the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Widespread vaccination has made it rare in the U.S. and other developed countries. The vaccine is part of the recommended childhood immunization schedule. Developing nations still have high rates of diphtheria. The condition can be treated, but in advanced stages it can damage the heart, kidneys, and nervous system. Even with treatment, diphtheria can be deadly, especially in children.

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Meningococcal disease
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 10%-20%

Meningococcal disease refers to an illness caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria, also known as meningococcus. These illnesses can be deadly and can include infections of the lining of the brain and spinal cord as well as bloodstream infections. These bacteria spread through spit or kissing.

Meningococcal disease is treated with antibiotics and must be treated quickly. The CDC recommends meningococcal vaccines to preteens, teens, and certain other people.

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Yellow fever
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 3%-50%

Yellow fever is found in tropical and subtropical environs of Africa and South America and is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Yellow fever was a big reason why the French abandoned plans to build the Panama Canal in the 19th century. The disease ranges from a fever with aches and pains to severe liver disease with bleeding and yellowing skin.

There is no treatment or cure. There is a vaccine, however, that is recommended for travelers to regions with yellow fever.

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Poliomyelitis (polio)
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 2%-30%

Poliomyelitis is a viral disease that can affect nerves and can lead to partial or full paralysis. It is caused by infection with the poliovirus and can be spread by person-to-person contact through mucus or phlegm from the nose or mouth, or by contact with infected feces.

The development of the polio vaccine had drastically reduced the incidence of poliomyelitis. The high range in fatality rate depends on the form of the disease. In fact, the case fatality rate increases to 75% when some parts of the body are involved.

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Anthrax Several kinds
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 10%-50%

Anthrax is an illness caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. It mainly affects livestock and wild game. People can become infected through direct or indirect contact with sick animals. It can enter the body through a wound, by eating contaminated meat, or by inhaling the spores.

While anthrax is rare in developed nations, it is considered to be a bioterrorism threat. Treatment includes antibiotics and antitoxins. Depending on the type, fatality can be lower or higher.

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