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View Full Version : What microbe has murdered the most of mankind?



Tom Mazanec
2012-Dec-19, 04:14 PM
Plague? Malaria? Smallpox? Something else?

Paul Beardsley
2012-Dec-19, 05:10 PM
Spanish flu, 1918?

Gillianren
2012-Dec-19, 05:18 PM
From a strictly semantic perspective, none. "Murder" requires intent.

ShinAce
2012-Dec-19, 05:42 PM
Tuberculosis or E. coli, as a guess. You'd be amazed how many surgeries come back from pathology with TB.

Perikles
2012-Dec-19, 05:50 PM
I thought malaria held that honour. Surely bubonic plague is high on the list?

Infinity Watcher
2012-Dec-19, 06:21 PM
To be honest... I suspect this is a question without a definite answer since you have to define when two pathogens are considered the same (are two flu viruses from different years the same? they have a lot of similarities, but some important differences as well, show about two e-coli subspecies?), my personal guess would actually be a rather more mundane pathogen: Rotavirus. Diarrhoea remains a major killer in areas without adequate sewerage systems and modern healthcare, and unlike the plagues it doesn't really burn itself out remaining endemic to the population. Of course once you get beyond a few decades back there's a fair bit of guesswork involved in determining cause of death and frequently it's impossible to know (These days in the UK a doctor cannot list "Heart Failure" as the cause of death on the (not unreasonable) grounds that ultimately Heart Failure is the cause of just about all deaths so you need to be a bit more specific, but this wasn't always the case, and go back even further and you get causes of death that cover what we now consider multiple pathologies, in other areas the cause of death may have been deliberately fudged to protect the reputation of the deceased or their family (Suicide being a common one for being adjusted by the coroner) and sometimes although someone dies of a particular illness it's not particularly telling since they would have died of something soon anyway (see references to pneumonia being "The old man's friend").

Interestingly though I've just looked up the leading causes of death at the WHO (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs310/en/index.html) website. The leading killer in low income categories (which I am guessing is the chart most applicable to the rest of the world prior to the relatively recent advent of modern healthcare) turns out to be Lower Respiratory Tract Infections (LRTIs) which more or less means Pneumonia. So the award may actually belong to something like the Strep. Pneumoniae or H. Influenzae (with the B strain HiB being the best known of the H. Influenzae pathogens).

swampyankee
2012-Dec-20, 01:14 AM
From a strictly semantic perspective, none. "Murder" requires intent.

You beat me to it.

Malaria is probably a prime suspect, because it's been around long enough for humans to have several mutations, including sickle cell trait and thalassemia, that seem to provide some protection against malaria, but also may have severe side effects.

Nick Theodorakis
2012-Dec-20, 01:32 AM
Variola (smallpox virus) must surely be up near the top.

Nick

Jens
2012-Dec-20, 01:39 AM
According to some places I looked, it may be smallpox. Somebody also mentioned the measles, which sounds a bit surprising, but apparently it used to be quite a deadly disease.

Ara Pacis
2012-Dec-20, 09:18 AM
Are we including viruses as "microbes"?

I'd say ova. Every human death started with one.

Inclusa
2012-Dec-26, 09:13 PM
Are we including viruses as "microbes"?

I'd say ova. Every human death started with one.

Sure, since all human births end up as human deaths.

Wolf1066
2012-Dec-26, 10:27 PM
I'd say ova. Every human death started with one.
Leading scientists agree that life is the number one cause of death...

novaderrik
2012-Dec-27, 12:22 AM
whatever wiped out a good chunk of the population of Europe and then took out most of the residents of the New World once it was brought here..

Romanus
2012-Dec-27, 12:36 AM
I'd vote for--over the history of mankind--malaria. It's been a huge factor in infant mortality for a long time, andmore so when its range was considerably larger than it is today.

Paul Beardsley
2012-Dec-27, 04:58 AM
I'd say ova. Every human death started with one.

It's a stretch too far to equate murder with conceiving a mortal. I will die at some time but I do not consider my parents murderers.

Ara Pacis
2012-Dec-27, 06:46 AM
It's a stretch too far to equate murder with conceiving a mortal. I will die at some time but I do not consider my parents murderers.

How many diseased have a genetic component, or are caused by behaviors learned from a parent?

Paul Beardsley
2012-Dec-27, 06:49 AM
How many diseased have a genetic component, or are caused by behaviors learned from a parent?

Still a stretch too far.

Ara Pacis
2012-Dec-27, 07:15 AM
Still a stretch too far.

Fine. Mitochondria, then.

Gillianren
2012-Dec-27, 04:35 PM
If we are going to ignore the hyperbole of "murder," as I think we should, I would say there's an argument to be made for measles. Heck, measles, influenza, and malaria are the only three of the diseases responsible for serious epidemics/pandemics that are still killing large numbers. The bubonic plague is still out there, but it kills very few every year. Smallpox isn't killing anyone, hasn't for decades. Despite the access to a vaccine, measles still kills almost 140,000 people a year.

swampyankee
2012-Dec-28, 12:57 AM
I think that the fatality rate of measles when I got it in the early 1960s was less than 1% (it is much higher -- as much as 10% -- in some population [ http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs286/en/ ]). Variola major -- the more common form of smallpox -- has about a 30% fatality rate (http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/237229-overview); I've read that it was as much as 90% in some Native American populations.

Gillianren
2012-Dec-28, 03:08 AM
Sure, but people still died from it--a lot of the Native American deaths were from measles, not smallpox. And the death rate was higher there, because they didn't have any immunity. (That was the problem with smallpox.) Despite the fact that some 70% or higher of the world's population is vaccinated against measles, it still kills, as I said, well over a hundred thousand people a year.

Frank Merton
2012-Dec-28, 09:20 AM
I got a note today that said Alexander the Great died of typhoid, and that his excessive drinking was not involved. Regardless, I still vote for alcohol as being the greatest murderer.

Frank Merton
2012-Dec-28, 09:22 AM
Oops! Sorry. Alcohol is not a microbe.

IsaacKuo
2012-Dec-28, 04:22 PM
Oops! Sorry. Alcohol is not a microbe.
Hmm...yeast is a microbe.

Gillianren
2012-Dec-28, 04:57 PM
Oops! Sorry. Alcohol is not a microbe.

No, and nor is the human egg. (Mitochondria are harder to define.) It's interesting to me that people will ignore bits and pieces of questions (this is not a comment against you; after all, you spotted your error) in order to make their point. I have maintained all along that the only correct answer to the OP is "none."

Inclusa
2012-Dec-29, 03:51 AM
No, and nor is the human egg. (Mitochondria are harder to define.) It's interesting to me that people will ignore bits and pieces of questions (this is not a comment against you; after all, you spotted your error) in order to make their point. I have maintained all along that the only correct answer to the OP is "none."

It sounds like I need to relearn my biology....

JC Wombopener
2012-Dec-31, 02:41 PM
:rimshot:industrial disease
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STMh9xCdzr8