Top 10 Man-Made Diseases

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There is something almost contradictory around the idea of man-made diseases. It could easily create images of mad scientists or evil terrorists creating the ultimate in biological weaponry. At this point the conspiracy theorist in all of us starts to wonder about the origin of any number of diseases and we look over our shoulders cautiously to see if Big Brother is standing there.

However, between the conspiracies and the terror campaigns is a fascinating list of diseases that could fit the criteria. Within these there has to be recognition that not all, if any, man-made diseases are created intentionally and some are more the result of the progress of the species than of any dire plan.

10. Obesity

Although it is more than cause of disease rather than the disease itself, it is probably worth recognizing that obesity in the twenty-first century is the product of a society that has removed, through changing work habits or the provision of convenience, the practices that previously kept it in check. In this way, man has made the basis of a plethora of diseases.

In the last twenty years, obesity rates in the developed world have virtually doubled. This has had a profound effect on the number of number of people suffering Gall Bladder Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension and Dyslipidaemia, as well as increasing a number of other health concerns. This has led to obesity being acknowledged as being virtually epidemic in its spread through and impact on the human race.

There are those who are genetically disposed to obesity and for these people it remains a condition to be managed. But for the greater part of the industrialised world, almost a third of all people are afflicted with a disease that is “caught” through inactivity, poor diet and a lack of awareness.


The AIDS virus has been blamed on any number of institutions, just as it has on various species and continents. While many of us believe that its eruption and the misery it has caused is similar to other dreadful epidemics, such as the Black Plague, that have afflicted the human race and whose origins have never been fully determined, there are also many who mount strong arguments for human intervention.

As a largely sexually transmitted disease, AIDS has the capacity to infect and decimate the human race. However, as it primarily attacked the homosexual community, the ravages of AIDS were mostly limited to a minority. Yet it is this limitation that has raised so many questions. Was it a stroke of “luck” that AIDS began in the gay community? Or was it a planned assault on a sector of the community that offended the establishment?

The circumstantial evidence has led theorists to consider the role of the American Government, the World Health Organisation and even the Catholic Church as players in a diabolical scheme to rid the world of homosexuals. But as any more substantial proof is not forthcoming, it is difficult to accept that any human could inflict such tragedy on another, let alone on millions.

Whether through the volume of voices raised in protest or through the bizarre series of facts that seemed to have fallen into place to see it begin as it did, there is enough conjecture to consider that AIDS may have been a man-made disease.

8. Cardiovascular Disease

While there is little, if any, evidence to suggest that Cardiovascular Disease is the product of direct or deliberate intervention by an individual or group of scientists, it must be considered that it incidence has risen dramatically in the light of modern living. This would suggest that, while not exactly man-made, the danger and spread of the disease is clearly attributable to man’s cultural and social progress.

Cardiovascular Disease was the cause of less than ten per cent of deaths at the start of the twentieth century, yet today has a role in at least thirty per cent of deaths. Eight out of every ten of deaths from this disease today occur in the developed nations of the world.

The causes of Cardiovascular Disease include smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and poor diet. This would suggest that as we have become more prone to stress, as we have lost the need to work in ways that maintain physical effort and as we have been provided with convenient food sources as opposed to healthy ones, we have become more susceptible to this disease.

Man has made his life more pleasurable, convenient and comfortable, but has simultaneously made a disease that is growing in its prevalence.

7. Swine Flu

Viruses can have a debilitating effect on susceptible organisms and when people are sick they have a tendency to look for someone to blame. While it is occasionally satisfying to growl at the dog or snarl at the cat when one isn’t feeling well, the prospect of blaming a pig for a potentially fatal virus offers little comfort. On this basis, a number of broadly termed “scientifically-minded” people have decided that Swine Flu is a man-made disease.

There is a strained, but compelling logic to the argument. Swine Flu is believed to be the result of a combination of four previously identified viruses, a Swine Flu strain from Asia/Europe, North American swine flu, North American avian flu and human H1N1 flu. The possibility of four viruses from different parts of the world and different species coming together by accident is incomprehensible, so there must have been human intervention. That is, bioterrorists are at work.

However, with the speed and ease with which people and animals now move around the world, it is quite possible that a virus could be carried enormous distances by multiple hosts. The high rate of vaccination and immunization that occurs in the general population means that non-symptomatic carriers are far more common than was once the case. The sad predicament of the pig in being susceptible to both human and bird diseases, not to mention his own collection of bugs, makes him an effective breeding ground for a huge gathering of virus component. The endpoint being a nasty virus, combining four previously known viruses, that comes from swine, that is the Swine Flu.

As neat as this explanation is, the scientists can’t realistically claim to have it all their own way. Their scenario makes sense, but the probabilities behind it must give something to the “scientifically-minded”. On this basis, the man-made versus quirk of nature argument remains a nil-all draw.

6. Myxomatosis and Calicivirus

The role of man in the creation of Myxomatosis and Calicivirus is contentious and, in some quarters, highly sensitive. This is probably because of the mix of cruel and unusual effect of the diseases on their victims, the soft, cuddly, highly destructive, rabbit population of Australia. While there is evidence to suggest both viruses were adapted in laboratories to meet the needs of pest control, the greater part played by man in their story was in their release to a non-indigenous environment.

Both viruses had a history of eradicating huge numbers of rabbits in their lands of origin and the argument ran that, as rabbits were an introduced species, controlling them with an introduced virus was almost logical. So in 1950 and 1995, myxomatosis and calicivirus, respectively, were released into the Australian rabbit population. Myxomatosis began slowly, but after a short time spread through the rabbits of Australian virulently. However, the effects of the disease, blindness and a painful neurologically focused death, shocked many people and while accepted as a necessary evil did little to convince, it did little to encourage the use biological controls.

By the early 1990’s, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), had begun testing a new biological control for rabbits, the Calicivirus .They hoped that this would be more palatable to the general public, but while running field tests in 1995, the virus “escaped” from Wardang Island, in South Australia, to the mainland. It spread through South Australia and into New South Wales and Victoria quickly and efficiently amidst much public angst around human susceptibility to the virus.

Perhaps it’s a reflection of humans’ love of their pets, and the political pressure a pet rabbit can apply, that since the release of both viruses, a significant amount of research time, money and energy has gone into the development of a vaccine for both viruses.

5. Pathogenic Mycoplasma

Mycoplasmas are usually the harmless genus of bacteria that exist without a cell wall. Most of the two hundred species go virtually unnoticed, although four or five have the potential to cause illness. But the development of a mycoplasma from the nucleus of the Brucella bacterium created an agent that is neither bacterium nor virus and is therefore unlikely to be bothered by antibiotics or penicillin.

The pathogenic Mycoplasma was basically innocuous until scientist began to experiment with it during World War II. Both sides of the conflict were looking for biological weapons that could be used to kill or disable the opposition’s armies. In the course of this research the pathogenic Mycoplasma was armed with the potential to play a vital role. Since then, scientists have continued to study the Mycoplasma from the Brucella bacterium, refine it and arm it. There are some that actually believe it has already been tested on the public of North America.

Depending on the genetic make-up of the individual, the mycoplasma enters the cells of the body; neurological diseases can occur if it destroys cells in the brain, Crohn’s colitis if it has damaged cells in the gut. The pathogen can lie dormant for many years and will be triggered by trauma or a misfiring vaccination; it then grows by feeding on the nutrients in the cell it has infiltrated. Among the diseases believed to be within the scope of pathogenic Mycoplasma are chronic fatigues syndrome, AIDS, Crohn’s colitis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Although it may be fair to point out that pathogenic Mycoplasma is not itself a disease, its potential to cause so many debilitating or fatal diseases and its man-made origin must make it relevant to this list.

4. Polio

Although the polio virus itself is on the brink of extinction worldwide and many governments have been considering the abolition of vaccination against the disease, US researchers were able to add it to the list of man-made diseases in 2002 by “building” the first synthetic virus based on the genome of the polio virus. That is to say, while the rest of the world celebrated the defeat of a monster, scientists put time and effort into reviving it once again.

While there may have been good reason to create the virus, such as studying it to discover the best means of defeating its like in future, the people responsible had a more simplistic motive for their work. The reason they did it was to prove that it can be done. They also admitted that they had achieved the feat by following a recipe that “they downloaded from the internet” and were able to use gene sequences that they attained from a mail-order service.

In answer to criticism that they had made the way clear for terrorists to create new and deadly viruses, the researchers explained that there are only a handful of people who would have the knowledge to carry out the task successfully. But they did advise that all governments should follow the lead of the World Health Organization and stockpile significant quantities of polio vaccine just in case.

3. Polyplexes

About five years after the creation of the first synthetic virus, researchers announced that they had made significant advances in the production of “polyplexes”. These are synthetic viruses that are designed to carry healthy genes into the cells of people suffering from diseases that are the result of genetically defective genes. The most common of these is cancer, some forms of which are believed to be the result of mutating cells restricting the ability of healthy cells to operate normally.

Through the introduction of “polyplexes”, these mutant cells have their faulty genes replaced with new healthy genes. This occurs because viruses have to take over cells in order to replace their host’s and use its metabolism to replicate the virus. In this way, the “polyplexes” act as a microbiological bus that transports the genes. However, the bus is made synthetically and carries healthy genes which reach the same endpoint and leave its passengers in place of the malfunctioning genes.

This means that the synthetic virus is actually a man-made disease that is being manipulated into using its powers for goodness rather than evil.

2. Cancer

Despite the number of articles and the well-honed theories to the contrary, it is almost certain that no-one created cancer. However, it is also almost certain that the propensity of modern society to contract the disease has something to do with lifestyle and the environment in which we live.

Smoking cigarettes, using asbestos as a building material and the inclusion of carcinogenic material in photocopier toner are examples of ways that we have increased the risk of contracting cancer. Damaging the ozone layer has caused a rise in the incidence of skin cancer and polluting water supplies with carcinogenic chemicals increases the incidence of cancers.

So, while the scientists argue about the intent behind the creation of the circumstances that lead to cancer, it can be argued that, in addition to naturally occurring cancer, man has made a significant contribution to the disease.

1. Vaccines

As broad as this topic is, by the very nature of the process through which vaccines are made and administered, they must be the most effective and impressive of man-made diseases. The earliest medical practitioners would probably have noticed that those who survived a virus, however nasty (the virus, not the people), were somehow immune to its effects should it return. This must have given some hope, even if they didn’t know how to use this knowledge.

The Chinese had a revolting, but clever attempt at harnessing this process in their struggle against smallpox, but it wasn’t until the 1700’s that the idea really found an audience in Europe. Now the study and production of vaccines is continually being improved, but the basic procedure remains the same.

Simplistically, a virus contains two parts, that which makes us sick and that which contains antigens that stimulate the immune response. By isolating the antigens a vaccine is able to be created that will tell our immune system to build up defenses against a particular virus. Then when the virus reaches us, we already have the defenses in place.

There are a number of means to reach the same end in the creation of an effective vaccine, but the end product is usually the creation of a form of a disease that will lead to our immunity from its more offensive big brother.