The deadliest viruses still in existence

Viruses come in all manner of shapes and sizes, usually in the shape of what is that thing and the size ugly microscopic what is that thing. Few are great for you, but some are ruthless and swift in their assault on the immune system. These viruses are the worst of the worst, the ones who leave very few to no survivors. And worst of all — they're still around. Here are some of the scariest, in no particular order, because you're in grave danger no matter which one you tangle with.

H5N1 (Bird Flu)

When the bird flu first made headlines in 1997, it already had a body count of two dozen in Hong Kong. While compared to other viruses, its body count has been relatively low, what makes Bird Flu so deadly is most humans lack immunity. According to the World Health organization (WHO), symptoms and signs of H5N1 typically encompass all the usual malaise and general ickiness of a regular flu, the only difference being your body — unless vaccinated — is completely unequipped to fight it.

Left untreated, it causes massive hemorrhaging in the lungs, which leads to a painful, agonizing, and likely slow death. And best yet, you can get it from just about any bird. Plucking an infected chicken, stuffing an infected Thanksgiving turkey, or getting swarmed by infected seagulls could expose you to the virus. Take heart, though, as there are no conclusive studies that point to the virus spreading if the food is properly prepared and fully cooked. That covers all but those cursed seagulls.

The scariest thing about bird flu comes from Dutch scientists, who in 2011 decided that, just for funsies, they'd create a super-strain that could spread via human-to-human contact. Not only that, but because humanity has no immunity, if a vial were to be lost or to escape into the world, it would spark a global health catastrophe. Think zombie apocalypse only with people coughing and sneezing themselves to death. No flesh-eating involved, but the death toll would be insurmountable, as the current strain already has a mortality rate of 60%.

As of now, according to the WHO, there exist no vaccines for widespread use, though candidates are being developed. For now, WHO works with countries to contain and manage cases of infection to prevent widespread outbreaks. For now though, if that Dutch strain of H5N1 broke free, we'd all die of the flu, and who wants that on their gravestone?


Ebola is one of the most infamous viruses since the Bubonic Plague (the Black Death). Unlike the Plague, however, ebola refuses to let up, and claims countless lives annually. This virus has a kill-death ratio to make any couch-dwelling gamer bitter with envy, with a fatality rate of 50% in most cases, and upwards of 90% in recent years, according to WHO. This virus is highly communicable, and frequents tropical areas in various countries in Africa, as evident from the recent outbreak that sent West Africa into complete lockdown and catapulted Emory into the headlines, as they braved treating ebola victims on US soil.

Ebola's been the inspiration for many fictional biohazard stories, such as Resident Evil, and it's no small wonder why. Ebola's highly infectious, and not because of a cute laugh, but because of how it spreads via bodily fluids or secretions of an infected person. Plus, they remain infectious as long as the virus is in their bloodstream, meaning any cough, sneeze, casual spit, tears, sweat, and other fluids can become a vessel of certain death.

Ebola viruses replicate within cells, after which the cell is destroyed as the replicated virus bursts out like a Chestbuster. They then rush off to go repeat the process with other poor, unfortunate cells. It's a never-ending cycle of cellular violence, but to the victim, the symptoms of this bloody coup manifest at around 2-21 days, depending on the virus' speed. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle pain, and a sore throat. That sounds like a flu, right? Yep, that makes this virus even deadlier, as it has similar symptoms to the common flu, but it's so not. Instead, symptoms quickly worsen, to include vomiting, diarrhea, rashes on the torso, and internal and external bleeding all over the body. Ebola also effectively liquefies the organs via hemorrhaging, and if left untreated, the victim dies bleeding and soiling themselves. Charming.

But wait, there's worse! Don't reach for your bubble suit just yet — Ebola is so deadly that, if stringent protocol and procedures for handling it are not adhered to, even those in HAZMAT suits can be infected, as evidenced during the infamous 2014-2015 outbreaks.


Rabies, not one to let its fellow murder-bugs get one up on it, occupies all continents on the planet, save for Antarctica. Dogs — our friends and lovable companions — are the source and carriers of the virus, and 99% of all animal-to-human transmissions come from dog bites. Fortunately, this virus can be prevented with a vaccine, and US federal law requires all dogs be vaccinated prior to adoption.

Like most viruses that kill, rabies has an incubation dependent on the virus load — meaning, how much of the virus was delivered in a single bite — and where the virus entered the body. Incubation can vary from one to three months, and up to a year, which is way too late to call your best friend a bad dog for infecting you.

Symptoms consist of pain, pins-and-needles tingling at the wound site, fever, and general malaise. If left untreated, inflammation of the spinal cord and brain may occur. There is then but one path this happenin' party can take: the victim becomes a stereotypical "rabies victim," with hyperactivity, excitable behavior, hydrophobia (fear of water), and even aerophobia (fear of flying). After a few days of madness, fear, and drooling, the victim dies of cardiorespiratory arrest. Sounds like a good time to be had by all.

Fortunately, this disease rarely occurs in outbreaks, as the vaccine makes it super-preventable. It does, however, occur in poorer, underserved rural areas of the world, although the cases are small enough to go widely unreported. That being said, you should probably hug your dog, now.


The measles are ugly, and not just typical virus-ugly. Look at any photo of measles, and witness your appetite vanish into thin air. Having it isn't much better — measles is one of the deadliest viruses on Earth, whose body count mostly consists of children under age five, despite an actual vaccine that can prevent this virus from spreading into an outbreak. Regardless, anyone else think the measles are kind of cowardly, going after the kids like this?

Once you get measles (which should be easy if you listened to silly celebrities and didn't vaccinate yourself, since measles are airborne and travel easy), you'll notice a feeling much like most other viral infections: an incubation period of 10-12 days, followed by an unusually high fever and flu-like symptoms. Afterwards, a giant rash erupts all over the body, generally centered around the torso. It's ugly, red, itchy, and if you don't believe that, see the above photo, showcasing how ugly, red, and itchy the measles are. Oh, and then it does what other viruses that trick you into thinking you have the flu do best — kill you dead.

Marburg virus

The Marburg virus is considered the deadliest virus in the world, with a body count that will likely give any sane person the heeby-jeebies. Marburg is deadly because it takes its cues from its sister virus, ebola, in that the endgame is massive hemorrhaging and slow, agonizing, messy death. Unlike ebola, however, the Marburg murderer — we don't care if we hurt a virus's feelings by calling it names — has an 88% fatality rate, with no signs of stopping for breath.

Basically, ebola waits, Marburg takes. Not only do symptoms start immediately after exposure, they're rapid, beginning with severe headaches and malaise, incubating for 2-21 days, and then taking lives. Vomiting, diarrhea, internal/external bleeding, and organ failure occur within the same week, followed by death. Generally, blood loss and dehydration are the actual cause of death, and even then, the virus remains active, able to spread through handling of dead tissue and bodily fluids.

We haven't mentioned anything about a vaccine, because there isn't one. There is currently no cure nor vaccine to combat this thing. Once you have it, there is only intensive care and the hope that doctors can make your death as comfortable as possible. They probably won't succeed much, since if you get it, you'll likely spend your remaining days in a quarantine lab, surrounded by plastic, sterilized metal, and vented air. Sounds like the worst way to retire.


The deadliest virus in the world, the one with the highest level of infection, and a continued plague on public health on a global scale, is the sexually transmitted HIV/AIDS virus. According to the good people of WHO, HIV/AIDS killed an estimated 1.1 million people in 2015 alone, and over 36.7 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS. So just because you might hear about it less these days doesn't mean it's retired. Nope, this virus is serious, and works serious overtime.

HIV/AIDS is transmitted through bodily fluids like blood, semen, pus, breast milk, and discharge. Contrary to popular belief, it cannot be transmitted through saliva, by touching an infected person, or by sharing their food, drink, or bed with them. That's about the only good thing we can say about it. Once inside, HIV/AIDS attacks the immune system, destroying white blood cells and replicating itself inside its cell-corpse. This initially results in the ever-familiar flu-like symptoms (severe weight loss, headaches, fever, sore throat, a rash, and the like). Real symptoms usually don't manifest until later stages of infection, which can be upwards of ten years after infection for some people. After the immune system is effectively broken down, it isn't HIV or AIDS itself that kills, so much as the virus' devastating onslaught on the immune system.

HIV/AIDS has proven formidable to medical professionals everywhere. There exists no known cure, though in the last 15 years, advances have been made to ensure those living with HIV/AIDS are able to take medicine to slow the encroachment and assault of the virus. There is plenty of preventive measures out there, though, between abstinence, condom use, and dental dams (for use during oral sex), plus most clinics offer free testing for HIV/AIDS, along with a bevy of medical advancements for those already infected.


Anthrax isn't just a mid-tier metal band — it's another deadly disease that has swept the nation. All forms of this disease are fatal without question. That's the bad news. And now for the … worse news: it can be contracted via different entry points, like an exposed wound, inhalation, injection, or ingestion.

OK, good news time: anthrax is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria. Why's that good news? It's because anthrax isn't actually a viral infection, but a bacterial one, so it can be treated with antibiotics. However, time between infection and treatment is short, and must be done swiftly. Otherwise, there's an entire stint of pain and possible death on the schedule.

Unlike other deadly infections, anthrax has verifiable symptoms that aids us in identifying it before the infection becomes fatal. They vary, according to how you caught. If you catch anthrax through an open wound (called cutaneous infection), you get a cluster of ugly blisters at the site of infection. Following the blister cluster phase, a single black blister will emerge around your neck, face, or hands. The blister's painless, but unable to be cleansed with your local seaweed and charcoal mask. It's a sign.

If you've inhaled the infection, expect fevers, chills, and flu-like symptoms. You may also experience extreme fatigue, sweats, shortness of breath, pneumonia-like chest pains, headaches, and body aches. Swallow the stuff– please don't ever do that, by the way — you'll win all of the above, plus the limited and exciting addition of abdominal cramping and pain, a swollen neck or neck glands, bloody diarrhea/vomit, a swollen stomach, a sore throat, and painful swallowing. Of course, it wouldn't be a party without the omnipresent and ubiquitous fainting spells from which no amount of smelling salts can wake you.

Did you manage to have anthrax injected into your system? Well, symptoms are wildly similar to cutaneous infection, plus the added party favors of: swelling around the blister cluster, abscesses deep beneath the skin or muscle around the injection site, and of course, flu-like symptoms. What would an infectious and deadly disease be without that?

Anthrax infects mainly herbivorous animals, and so those who handle said animals are the most at risk of contracting the disease, including farmers of livestock, veterinarians, and anyone in the military or medical profession exposed to the bioterror attacks involving anthrax spores. Walking around with a respiration mask doesn't seem so ridiculous anymore, does it?

Also, you should probably go hug your dog. Again. But not your cow. Just in case.