Dangerous Beauty: A Close Look at Deadly Diseases

Scientists get closer to most deadly diseases than you'd ever want to. Here's the only safe view of anthrax, salmonella, and more: through the scientist's microscope.

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    smallpox virus micrograph

    Scientific Name: variola Smallpox is a serious, highly contagious, and sometimes fatal infectious disease that was eradicated worldwide as of 1978. There is no specific treatment for smallpox disease, and the only prevention is vaccination.
    CDC/ Dr. Fred Murphy
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    Scientific name: Salmonella typhimurium Under a magnification of 2500X, this scanning electron micrograph image reveals the presence of a large number of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans.
    CDC/ Bette Jensen
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    Scientific name: Ebolavirus Created by CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith, this colorized photo revealed some of the funky structure of an ebola virus. The exact origin, locations, and natural habitat of the 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 normally lives in an animal host native to Africa.
    CDC/ Cynthia Goldsmith
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    Whitmore Disease

    Scientific name: Burkholderia cepacia Whitmore disease, or meliodosis, originates in a bacteria called Burkholderia cepacia, seen in this scanning electron micrograph photograph.
    CDC/ Janice Haney Carr
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    Scientific name: Burkholderia Mallei Glanders is an aerobic bacteria, the cause of melioidosis or Whitmore Disease. The organism's shape and features change somewhat as the incubation period lengthens.
    CDC/ Courtesy of Larry Stauffer, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory
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    Marburg Virus

    Scientific name: Marburg virus This photo, captured by scientist F.A. Murphy in 1968, depicts a number of Marburg virus virions grown in tissue cells. Marburg hemorrhagic fever is a rare, severe type of hemorrhagic fever that affects both humans and non-human primates.
    CDC/ Frederick Murphy
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    E. coli

    Scientific Name: Escherichia coli Under a 6,836-fold magnification, the Escherichia coli bacteria (commonly called E. coli) looks more artistic than sickening. Although most strains are harmless, and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, this strain produces a powerful toxin, which can cause severe illness.
    CDC/ National Escherichia, Shigella, Vibrio Reference Unit at CDC
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    Scientific name: Chlamydia Psittaci This stained micrograph showed the presence of Chlamydia bacteria in the tissue of a mouse's brain, after a 400x magnification. Though it normally strikes birds and causes an upper respiratory infection, it can infect humans.
    CDC/ Dr. Vester Lewis
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    Lassa Virus

    Scientific name: Arenavirus A member of the family Arenaviridae, lassa is a single-stranded RNA virus, and is an animal-borne disease that can be transmitted to humans. The illness, which occurs most commonly in West Africa, was discovered in 1969 when two missionary nurses died in Nigeria.
    CDC/ C. S. Goldsmith, P. Rollin, M. Bowen
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    Gas Gangrene

    Scientific name: Clostridium Perfringens What is it? A spore-forming, heat-resistant bacterium that can cause foodborne disease -- and the most common bacterial agent for gas gangrene, a potential biohazard. The spores persist in the environment, and often contaminate raw food materials. These bacteria are found in mammalian feces and soil.
    CDC/ Dr. Gilda Jones
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    This micrograph reveals the first stage of shigellosis -- or bacterial dysentery -- as it progresses. Usually, those who are infected with Shigella develop fever, an often bloody diarrhea, and stomach cramps starting a day or two after they are exposed to the bacterium. Shigellosis usually resolves in 5 to 7 days.
    CDC/ Dr. Sam Formal, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
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    Scientific name: Cryptosporidium This blue-stained section shows numerous Cryptosporidium organisms at the surface of epithelial cells. Infection leads to Cryptosporidiosis -- Crypto for short -- and it results in a wide range of symptoms, from asymptomatic infections to severe, life-threatening illnesses.
    CDC/ Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr.
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    Equine Encephalitis

    Scientific name: Eastern equine encephalomyelitis This micrograph shows a salivary gland extracted from a mosquito infected by the Eastern equine encephalitis virus. Due to the high case fatality rate, it is regarded as one of the more serious mosquito-borne diseases in the United States.
    CDC/ Fred Murphy; Sylvia Whitfield
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    Scientific name: Clostridium Botulinum A colony of botulism bacteria grown on a plate and magnified 5X. The bacterium C. botulinum produces a nerve toxin, which causes the rare, but serious paralytic illness Botulism.
    CDC/Dr. Holdeman
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    Scientific name: Bacillus Anthracis Under a very high magnification of 31,207X, this scanning electron micrograph captures spores from the Sterne strain of anthrax bacteria. These spores can live for many years, which enables the bacteria to survive in a dormant state.    
    CDC/ Laura Rose
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    Scientific name: Vibrio Cholerae This scanning electron micrograph depicts a number of cholera bacteria, photographed as two were about to complete the process of cellular division. Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.   
    CDC/ Janice Carr
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    Scientific name: Yersenia Pestis This photomicrograph shows the changes in splenic tissue (magnified 400 fold) caused by the plague. 
    CDC/Dr. Marshall Fox
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    Rabbit Fever

    Scientific name: Francisella Tularensis Tularemia, also known as "rabbit fever," is a disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Tularemia is typically found in animals, especially rodents, rabbits, and hares. Tularemia is usually a rural disease and has been reported in all U.S. states except Hawaii.
    CDC/ Courtesy of Larry Stauffer, Oregon State Public Health Laboratory
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    Western Equine Encephalitis

    Scientific name: Western equine encephalomyelitis This 1981 aerial photograph was taken while flying over the prairie pothole wetlands of North Dakota in the Red River region, during a 1975 Western Equine Encephalitis, and St. Louis Encephalitis epidemic in that area.
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