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What's old is new again: Diseases making comebacks

A primitive gas mask in the shape of a bird's beak. A common belief at the time was that the plague was spread by birds. It was thought that by dressing in a bird-like mask, the wearer could draw the plague away from the patient and onto the garment the plague doctor wore.

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The measles outbreak creeping across more than 14 states is alarming health authorities and inflaming criticism of parents who fail to, or choose not to, vaccinate their children.

But several diseases that might have been well known to your grandparents—or even older ancestors who saw things like the 17th century anti-plague suit shown here—are still around with us today. And a few of them seem to be making startling comebacks.

For example, CNBCreported in September that a spike in cases of gout and rickets surprised researchers health authorities in the United Kingdom, who blame poverty for the resurgence of those two conditions, which had been nearly eradicated.

Only months earlier, an outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, infected California schoolchildren and added more fuel to the vaccination debate.

Many people will know these diseases only from the pages of history or the literature of bygone eras, but many of these debilitating, and often fatal, illnesses are still infecting and killing people around the world.

Almost all of these diseases are preventable with thorough factors such as vaccines and proper nutrition, and many are treatable or curable if caught in time.

—By CNBC's Robert Ferris, February 4, 2015

Manuel Velasco | Getty Images