I'm trying to find a common or easily transmitted illness that would prevent a person from eating for several days (or keeping down/digesting food). I know there are a lot of things that can make eating difficult or unpleasant, but I need something with a better success rate. It would also need to be treatable.

Essentially, I have a plot point that revolves around killing off a portion of the population who are 'infected' for lack of a better explanation. The infected have almost zero percent body-fat, which means they would starve quickly, while 'normal' people would just be very hungry (and sick).

Sadly, I'm not a pathologist, and I'm not sure how I would format this question to search Google.


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    $\begingroup$ Have you looked into Cholera? $\endgroup$
    – Khris
    Nov 24, 2017 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ A virulent stomach flu would do this. However, your real problems are the phrases "easily transmitted" and lasting in its worst form for at least a week. We're all so socially concious about illness nowadays that we have sick days at work to take us out of the population. You need something that transmits by breath or handshake before symptoms manifest and is difficult to suppress for that week (allowing people to die). I suspect you'll be picking one of the transmittable solutions presented and "weaponizing" it for your story. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 24, 2017 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ Transmission would be intentional, by any means available to a (albeit somewhat crippled) state sized actor. Also, viruses are off the table due to some other plot complications, sadly. I know I didn't mention that, but I didn't want to get too bogged down in the rest of the story details. Thanks for your comment. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Biggs
    Nov 24, 2017 at 6:24
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    $\begingroup$ Please consider waiting with accepting an answer at least 24 hours so people from all over the world get the chance to answer. While the current answer might fulfill all you r requirements, there is a good chance that there are more equally good or even better answers (e.g. more detailed) out there. By accepting an answer this early people might consider it a waste fo time to do research and write up additional answers even if that might benefit you or another person with the same problem. $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Nov 24, 2017 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ Make cocaine available with food stamps. Problem solved. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jul 24, 2018 at 16:36

3 Answers 3


it's anomalous in de facto "first-world" conditions, but giardiasis is a parasitic infestation that might fit the bill:


ETA: the protozoan Giardia lamblia thrives in the feces of various mammals, soil and many foods, and can survive for three months in cold water. It's then quite cozy in the small intestine and can be passed by casual contact between humans and dogs in particular, often from contaminated food.

Symptoms of giardiasis include:

  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting

It can pass in up to six weeks or require a shorter course of treatment, but 1/3 of those infected may show no symptoms. (Or, for the purposes of this scenario, just one or two inconclusive ones ...)

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, nailed it! That's a great option. Clears up on its own too. Much appreciated. I didn't expect to have anything near a good option this quickly. Now I can get back to trying to finish this book by the end of the month. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Biggs
    Nov 24, 2017 at 6:20



Always a favourite among those of us who've worked in the health sector, the trick when someone has it is to stop them from coming in to the health centre.

Norovirus, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, is one of the most common stomach bugs in the UK. It's also called the winter vomiting bug because it's more common in winter, although you can catch it at any time of the year.

Symptoms include

  • projectile vomiting
  • watery diarrhoea
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Reading this (and other answers) while biting an apple made me wonder if the symptoms shouldn't be better tagged as spoiler... $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 24, 2017 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, the first thing you learn in a health sector job is how to discuss this sort of thing over lunch :) $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Nov 24, 2017 at 10:49

Rotavirus - Seee https://www.cdc.gov/rotavirus/index.html

Rotavirus disease is most common in infants and young children. However, older children and adults also can get sick from rotavirus. Once a person has been exposed to rotavirus, it takes about 2 days for the symptoms to appear.

Children who get infected may have severe watery diarrhea, often with vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. Vomiting and watery diarrhea can last from 3 to 8 days. Additional symptoms may include loss of appetite and dehydration (loss of body fluids), which can be especially dangerous for infants and young children.

It's a common childhood disease in the USA, so no handwavium is needed.


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