Society’s Hypochondria: 9 Health Scares That Keep Us Awake At Night

Since the black plague, humanity has been terrified of being wiped out by disease. Sometimes those terrors are justified – I mean, not totally justified, because obviously humanity has never been wiped out by disease – and sometimes they’re ridiculous. This list includes both.

1. Anthrax

This one was legit scary., Pretty much immediately after 9/11, a bunch of important people got letters in the mail containing white powder: the anthrax virus. People died. It was bad.

Around that time, I got a mysterious envelope from Nickelodeon Magazine (remember that?) with a dollar in it, I think it was thanks for filling out some survey, and my Mom wouldn’t let me keep it ‘cuz she thought it was suspicious! But then she gave me a different dollar ‘cuz my Mom is dope.

We had a few suspects, but we never had definitive proof of the culprit.

2. Mad Cow Disease

One time I was eating a hamburger while intoxicated and suddenly got a terrifying vision of myself at 60, gone crazy due to Mad Cow begotten by this very burger. I threw it out. I then stared at the thrown-out burger and was like, “Ugh, I totally wanted to eat that.”

Mad Cow has only killed 210 humans worldwide, but affects a bunch of cattle each year. There are fears—based on animal studies—that consuming beef or beef products containing prion particles can also cause the development of classic CJD – CJD being the manifestation of Mad Cow in humans. The scary part is that it takes years for CJD to show up once you’ve been infected, and CJD “is incurable and invariably fatal.” Scary stuff.

3. and 4. Flus Bird and Swine

Remember these guys? I’m pretty sure I got swine flu but the I was just okay because I slept a lot and watched a bunch of Rocko’s Modern Life reruns. Swine flu’s been dead since 2010 (humans won!) but bird flu is supposedly still a problem.

These flus are scary, but they’re never as serious as the media makes them out to be.


SARS is a fine memory of the early 2000s: the weird gas masks people started to wear, the constant media coverage. And it was a bad one, but not as bad as it could have been: it killed about 775 and infected a total of 8,273 (that’s about a 9% death rate). It mostly affected China and Hong Kong, and people under a certain age we’re pretty much safe.

6. SARS II: Return of the SARS

A new “deadly cousin” of SARS is on the rise now – it’s already infected 14 and killed 8 people. The Coronavirus strain is mostly focused in the Middle East, and is only worrisome for people with respiratory problems… for now.

7. Trans Fats

One day everyone decided that the trans fats they’d been shoving down their throats might not be very good for them. They were right: trans fats increase the risk of heart disease. New York City banned trans fats from all its food, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to ban all sodas above a certain size.

8. All of our stuff

There have been health scares about many common ‘ingredients’ of household goods and foods: melamine, lead paint and BPAs (common in water bottles) have all come under fire for being dangerous, and they most likely are. Cheaply made things from China were usually the culprit.

9. Kids These Days

Every couple of months, there is a new scare for clueless adults about the drug or twist on a drug or sexual perversion kids are doing: eyeballing vodka, enema-ing vodka, tamponing vodka, bath salts, Jenkem (scroll down for an explanation of what Jenkem is. It’s gross, don’t want to make anyone read it) synthetic weed, those sex bracelets, drinking hand sanitizer, ‘rainbow parties,’ and so on. Usually like, four kids do it and then the adults and the news get all in a huff and introduce it to a whole new crop of kids by telling them not to do it…

*Jenkem is (supposedly) a street drug made by fermenting human poopoo and peepee together in a bottle, allowing the fumes to inflate a balloon, then inhaling the contents of the balloon. According to Snopes, Jenkem is a total myth.