Insane Diseases that Could Kill You in Just One Day

Cynthia Goldsmith This colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. See PHIL 1832 for a black and white version of this image. Where is Ebola virus found in nature?

The exact origin, locations, and natural habitat (known as the "natural reservoir") of Ebola virus remain unknown. However, on the basis of available evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is zoonotic (animal-borne) and is normally maintained in an animal host that is native to the African continent. A similar host is probably associated with Ebola-Reston which was isolated from infected cynomolgous monkeys that were imported to the United States and Italy from the Philippines. The virus is not known to be native to other continents, such as North America.

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We avoid the flu by getting our vaccines and drink plenty of fluids when the stomach bug comes around, but what happens when a more serious threat is upon us? When it comes to severe diseases, we may not always know what to look out for. This is especially true when it comes to viruses and bacteria that only take a day to kill.

We’re thankful diarrhea and the flu aren’t typically life-threatening to the majority of us, but that doesn’t mean other diseases can’t take us out. Here are nine that can kill you in 24 hours or less, and what you can do to prevent your demise.

 Meningococcal disease

Scientist analyzing dish with virus and bacteria cells

This disease is brought on by a serious bacterial infection that’s easily spread from person to person if you’re in close contact, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases explains. When you first contract it, symptoms mimic those of a bad cold — you can expect a stiff neck, fever, and headaches. Once meningococcal disease progresses, however, the protective lining around the brain and the spinal cord can swell, or the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause a deadly infection.

Treatment has to be immediate, but even with proper medical care, you’re not guaranteed to survive. One in 10 people who contract the bacteria will die even when being treated, and two in 10 will walk away with brain damage, hearing loss, an amputated limb, or another disability. Symptoms can progress so quickly that it can quickly become fatal.


doctor in a white coat holding a symbol to indicate heart health

Many people live long, healthy lives with this condition, but the Epilepsy Foundation explains it’s associated with a phenomenon known as SUDEP, which stands for sudden, unexpected death in epilepsy. First, it’s important to understand what exactly epilepsy is. It’s not a bacterial or viral disease, the Foundation says, but a central nervous system disorder that causes seizures. One seizure isn’t enough for a diagnoses, however — that requires a person to have had two seizures in less than 24 hours that were not brought on by another medical disease or disorder.

When SUDEP occurs, it’ out of the blue. Prior to their untimely death, around one-third of those with epilepsy do show signs of having a convulsive seizure, but many others show no signs of seizing at all. The cause of death is often unknown, but some researchers suggest the seizures throughout their lifetime could cause an irregular heart rhythm that turns deadly. This doesn’t commonly happen to epileptics — only about 1 in 1,000 will die this way — but those with uncontrolled seizures are at a higher risk.


man drinking water

Not many of us are dying from cholera in the U.S. anymore, but if you’re in other parts of the world, contracting this disease could mean death is imminent. The World Health Organization explains cholera is a diarrhea-causing disease that’s transmitted by ingesting food or water that has been contaminated with a certain strain of bacteria. Many people don’t have symptoms other than uncomfortable stomach issues that aren’t life-threatening, but others can develop acute watery diarrhea. This then leads to severe dehydration and can kill within hours if left untreated.

The cholera virus is easily passed from one person to the next, so be wary if you’re entering a part of the world that has an outbreak.

Bubonic plague

A bubonic plague smear, prepared from a lymph removed from an adenopathic lymph node

We’ve all heard about the dreaded bubonic plague killing millions during the Middle Ages, but black death is still a disease you can contract to this day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains you primarily get the plague when you’re bitten by an infected flea that’s carrying the bacteria. If an animal has died from the plague and you’re directly handling it, you’ll want to be careful of this as well — contact with infected fluids can also put you at risk.

If you contract the plague, you’ll likely see symptoms between two and six days later. Once you start feeling ill, however, your time could be much more precious. Early symptoms include fever, headache, and chills, as well as swollen and tender lymph nodes. The bacteria from the flea multiplies in the lymph nodes closest to the bite and then can spread rapidly through the body if left untreated. Once the bacteria invades the bloodstream, it can cause shock, tissue death, or a severe lung infection.

Necrotizing fasciitis

doctor talking to a male patient in an exam room

If you don’t know this disease by its medical name, perhaps flesh-eating bacteria rings a bell. Necrotizing fasciitis is straight out of many of our nightmares, and it can be as devastating as its more common name suggests. WebMD explains it’s an infection in which the bacteria destroys fat, skin, and tissue covering the muscles. In rare cases, this bacteria can enter a wound and wreak havoc. Luckily, this disease is pretty rare, but about one in four people who contract it die.

You have a higher risk of getting this infection if you already have a weakened immune system, have a chronic health issue like diabetes or cancer, or have undergone surgery recently and still have open wounds. Once contracted, you’ll notice the infected wound is red, swollen, and extremely painful. The infection can spread extremely quickly, causing shock, gangrene, organ failure, and eventually, death.

Dengue fever

man who is feeling sick

If you’re visiting the tropics or subtropics, you’ll want to ensure you have plenty of bug spray on hand. The CDC explains dengue fever is caused by the bite of a mosquito that has been infected with the virus. It’s the leading cause of illness and death in the tropics — nearly 400 million people are infected each year, and it’s been a worldwide concern since the 1950s. Luckily for those living in the states, this disease doesn’t pose much of a threat.

When you contract the dengue virus, you’ll have a severe fever that lasts between two and seven days, and it’s often accompanied by severe headaches, eye pain, joint pain, and a rash. The fever then begins to subside, which is when the disease gets really dangerous. Many people do not seek medical attention because they think they’re getting better, but when you start to return to your normal temperature, you have between 24 and 48 hours to get help. This timeframe marks when your blood vessels become “leaky” and allow fluid to collect in the abdomen and the lungs. This can then lead to circulatory system failure, shock, and death.

Enterovirus D68

young children eating at McDonald's

Believe it or not, it’s fairly common for children to contract this respiratory disease, and it’s usually not very serious. explains enteroviruses enter the body through the intestinal tract and cause many different diseases. These illnesses, one of which is polio, typically attack the nervous system. Enterovirus D68, in particular, doesn’t cause polio. But it can be devastating nonetheless.

Symptoms of this disease include wheezing, coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose — essentially what you can expect from the common cold. The sickness doesn’t develop into something more severe than this for most, but it’s a different story for others. You’re unlikely to die from EV-D68 alone, but complications from other illnesses can lead to a quick death, particularly in young children. Kids with asthma should be carefully monitored if they contract EV-D68, as it can greatly affect their ability to breathe.

Chagas disease

a doctor drawing a heart

You may have never heard of Chagas disease, but you can actually contract it without knowing. USA Today explains Chagas is transmitted by a parasite typically found in areas of Latin America. Since 1955, there have only been 23 cases of someone in the U.S. contracting Chagas, but that doesn’t mean you should totally let your guard down. These bugs have been found in the southern half of the States.

You can get this disease if the parasite’s feces enter your body, which typically happens around the eyes, nose, or mouth. Acute Chagas doesn’t pose much of a threat — it’s the chronic phase you need to be wary of. Mayo Clinic explains chronic chagas can cause irregular heart beat, congestive heart failure, or sudden cardiac arrest.

If you develop heart complications from this disease, you can die within a day. The International Cardiovascular Forum Journal notes incidences when this disease has caused sudden, unexpected death in seemingly healthy individuals.

Congenital heart disease

Asian family of three sleeping in bed

This is perhaps the most devastating disease on this list because it’s present at birth and can very quickly result in infant death. MedlinePlus explains congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect, causing more deaths within the first year of life than any other defect.

Ebstein anomaly, one type of this disease, occurs when the valve that separates the right ventricle and the right atrium in the heart is abnormal. This off positioning can then cause blood to flow the wrong way, resulting in fluid buildup. In severe cases, this can lead to heart failure, blood clots, or deadly heart rhythms as soon as the baby is born.

This is just one example of congenital heart disease, but there are many others. Newborns can develop holes in the heart or not fully develop certain areas of the heart at all, which can then lead to serious complications as well.