10 Horrible Ways to Die

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A Brief History

On June 5, 1981, The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report reported on 5 cases of a rare form of pneumonia, a form only seen in people with compromised immune systems.  These were the first documented cases of AIDS.  Many diseases, accidents, and even intentional acts of other people result in horrible deaths.  Here we list 10 of those terrible ways to die.  What ways would you include?

10. Drowning.

About 400,000 people a year die from drowning (not even including natural disasters).  Like the other causes of death listed here, drowning is a terrifying and uncomfortable way to die.  So deeply ingrained is the fear and terror of drowning that “waterboarding” used as a torture is highly effective.  (Positioning a person with his head low so water cannot flow into the lungs, covering his nose and mouth with a towel and pouring water on the face.  In almost all people this results in immediate panic and intense discomfort.)  If the drowning person is conscious while drowning, the terror experienced may well be greater than any other death.

9.  Snakebite.

Although it is possible to die from the bite of  a non-venomous snake due to infection, we mean the bite of a venomous snake.  As many as 125,000 people a year die from snakebites, and those that die do not die happy.  Usually accompanied by tremendous fear, pain, nausea, and vomiting, snake venom can also cause bleeding from the eyes, nose, mouth and wounds that have previously healed.  Often causing necrosis of the flesh, the area around the bite swells, discolors, and rots away, with the area affected growing until gangrene sets in and the victim dies. Blindness, suffocation, kidney failure and muscles throughout the body may begin to break down can also be symptoms.  Treatment is complicated by having to properly identify the snake that bit the victim, which is often not easy if the snake left the scene.  If anti-venin for that type of venom is available and administered, there is an excellent chance the person will live.   

8.  Flesh Eating Bacteria. 

More correctly known as necrcotizing fasciitis, this horrifying problem can be caused by a variety of bacteria (such as staph and strep), usually a combination of microbes.  Often contracted while in a hospital for surgery or treatment of an injury, people with a weakened immune system are most at risk (such as diabetics, cancer victims, etc.).  Mortality rates among untreated people can be as high as 73%.  As the flesh of the victim “rots” away, creating horrible disfigurement and often amputations, other symptoms include fever, pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and general miserable illness.  A particularly bad form called MRSA can be contracted from sewage and especially in hospitals.  Sometimes massive doses of promptly administered anti-biotics can effectively treat the problem, but strains of anti-biotic resistant microbes can complicate and prolong treatment.

7.  Ebola Virus. 

About 90% fatal, this disease was not discovered until 1976, and it kills under 1000 people per year.  Those unfortunates die a horrible death, experiencing severe headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and uncontrolled bleeding.  Plus, victim’s die with the knowledge that there is no treatment and no cure, although scientists are working on developing a vaccine. 

6.  The Bends.

Not to be confused with the album by Radiohead, this painful condition is also known as decompression sickness orcaisson disease.  The condition develops from rapid decompression of people usually deep diving but also experienced by flying at high altitude without pressurization or spending time outside a spacecraft without a pressurized suit.  What happens is dissolved gasses in the blood bubble out when a person decompresses too quickly, resulting in horrific pains in the joints causing the victim to contort and writhe (the “bends”), often resulting in paralysis or death.  The only treatment it to place the victim in a hyperbaric (or recompression) chamber and slowly reduce pressure to normal atmospheric levels.  Since the gas bubbles can develop anywhere in the body, the skin can be affected with rashes and bubbles, the blood flow can be disrupted resulting in tissue death, the brain or spine could develop severe pain and disruption, and the lungs can be damaged causing coughing and inability to breathe properly.

5.  Being Eaten Alive.

Sometimes used as a form of execution, sometimes used by Nature to feed its predators.  Undoubtedly over the millennia millions of people have been devoured by lions, tigers, bears, sharks, wolves, crocodiles, alligators, piranhas, and a host of other hungry critters.  The horror of watching, feeling and hearing animals crunch through your bones while they gobble your flesh must be terrible indeed.  Being part of the food chain is not so good unless you are on the absolute top, especially when the eaters do not take the time to “humanely” kill you first. 

4.  Red Hot Poker up the Butt.

Not just some sort of joke, King Edward II of England is said to have been murdered at the behest of his wife and her lover by just this method, which would have the benefit of inflicting a horrible and painful death without marring the external appearance of the body.  You could almost hear her say, “Consider this a divorce!”

3.  Molten Metal Poured Down the Throat.

Probably not the sort of thing that happens accidentally, this method of execution was reportedly used by Romans and Spaniards among others.  Some people executed this way include Valerian, Crassus, and Manius Aquillius.  Research indicates that the hot metal would likely build up steam so quickly that internal organs would burst. 

2.  Brain Eating Amoeba.

This little gem, also known as Naegleria fowleri, lives in warm fresh water, usually well above 80 degrees F, and thankfully killing humans is fairly unusual.  Humans that do get the parasite, by getting water up the nose, die at a rate of above 95%.  In the US, this usually means the deep south, although in 2010 a 7 year old girl in Minnesota contracted the parasite and died.  This startling development means the parasite is moving much farther north than previously reported (by over 500 miles), perhaps due to global warming.  About 121 Americans have died from this horrible little monster since 1937, including 2 people in Louisiana that got it from local tap water introduced up their noses by use of a Neti Pot.  Symptoms are change in taste and smell, nausea, headache, confusion, fever, vomiting, hallucinations among others.  Death occurs within a week or 2.

1.  Mad Cow Disease

Known medically as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, (CJD), this is the human form of Mad Cow.  Caused by a bizarre malformed protein called a prion, this disease causes the brain to develop spongy type holes in it like Swiss cheese.  Dementia, memory loss, blindness, seizures, confusion, and death within 6 months is usual, although at times the victim suffers for a year or more.  Eating infected animals, especially brains or brain related parts, can transmit the disease, as can human cannibalism.  Terrifyingly, the disease can also be contracted through genetic mutation (as much as 5-10% of cases), or by surgical type introduction of contaminated tissue, such as blood transfusion, corneal implant, or taking Human Growth Hormone harvested from infected victims.  It is a unimaginably horrible way to die and devastating for families to witness.  There is no treatment and no cure.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Edmund, Neo and Ralph Tedesco.  Spike TV’s 1000 Ways To Die.  Zenescope, 2012.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.