Instant Illness

In the world of fiction, illnesses always progress as quickly as a heart attack. A person feeling ill will drop down within minutes of the first signs of an illness. Similarly, only hours or minutes remain for an antidote to take effect. To be fair, many diseases have a very fast progression (septicemic plague, for example, was described in Medieval writing as "the man coughs at dawn, takes to his bed at noon, and is dead by sundown.") but this trope is about diseases that move unusually fast (i.e. at the speed of plot).

This unrealistically speedy disease progression, apart from the need to squash a 24-hour or week-long disease into the 1 or 2 hours you can keep viewers interested, is motivated by the Rule of Drama: Nobody cares about an illness that takes weeks to develop.

See also Relationship Compression, Travelling at the Speed of Plot, and Transformation at the Speed of Plot. Contrast Soap Opera Disease and Victorian Novel Disease


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     Anime and Manga  

  • In Yuu Watase's manga Imadoki!, early in their acquaintance, Kugyou finds Tanpopo planting flowers in the rain, and she suddenly collapses with a fever. She hates hospitals, so he takes her back to her apartment instead, and has to take care of her—including changing her clothes while she's unconscious.
  • This happens a few times in Hana Yori Dango but the most ridiculous example is when Tsukushi falls into a swimming pool in a warm, tropical setting and instantly gets a bad fever. This prevents her from getting physical with Domyoji when they are finally alone together.
  • In the fourth episode of Seitokai Yakuindomo, Tsuda seemed perfectly healthy until the moment he steps out from under an umbrella. Within seconds he sneezes and is sick for the next episode.
  • In Fruits Basket, Yuki tends to collapse pretty quickly if he's in the cold or overexerts himself. It's explained that he was pretty sickly as a child, and his massive self esteem issues brought on by being abandoned by his family and tormented by the head of the house no doubt contributed.
  • Shiina of Gourmet Girl Graffiti would have this when she has water splashed on.
  • In Ergo Proxy, when Re-l goes to the commune outside of Romdeau to retrieve Vincent, she immediately gets sick from contamination exposure when she takes off her protective suit.

     Fan Fics  

  • The Toxic Plate is capable of creating such in Legendary Genesis.
  • In Woof Woof Power, Big D suddenly has an open bleeding chest wound a few months after he was stabbed there. You would think it would have healed, but it just suddenly springs up and he dies.


  • In Chaplin's The Kid, John, Charlie's Doorstop Baby, is feeling feisty enough to beat up a kid twice his size. Not more than ten minutes later, John is severely ill, so sick that he has to be carried back to Charlie's little apartment.
  • In North Sea Texas, Marcella offhandedly mentions that she needs to get her kidneys checked. The next time we see her is on her deathbead.
  • In Deadpool, Wade's late-stage cancer comes out of nowhere when he suddenly drops unconscious in his apartment.
  • In Cinderella (2015), Ella's mother is shown singing her daughter to sleep on a perfectly normal, happy night, then coughs lightly as she leaves the room, and then suddenly faints in her husband's arms. In the next scene, she's on her deathbed.


  • The Chalet School books are pretty bad for this, probably because of Values Dissonance and girls being considered to be delicate, as well as the school's large Ill Girl contingent. Any exposure to chills, rain, drafts, mud or cold water is fairly certain to leave the victim in the grip of a life-threatening disease if they're not immediately put into a hot bath and then into bed with two hot water bottles. In one book, Jo spends three days unconscious and is bedridden for over a week after standing for literally a few minutes by an open door on a snowy day.
  • Galaxy of Fear once has Tash given an injection that, within hours, has her sweating, feeling unusually irritable, and growing a rash-covered lump on that arm. Then it starts oozing, because it's the Blob Monster Virus. The one responsible actually coolly observes that the disease isn't progressing in her as fast as he'd expected.

     Live Action TV  

  • Happens every week on House, although the show handwaves it by saying that the patient only sought Dr. House's help when the diseases is at its final stages (when it can progress that fast), or because the overly invasive diagnostic tests and treatments House prescribed is causing an adverse reaction.


  • Jake Heggie's operatic adaptation of Moby-Dick portrays Queequeg's near-fatal illness this way, with him seeming perfectly well throughout most of Act 3, Scene 1, but then suddenly collapsing near the scene's end. This isn't the case in the novel, but the opera naturally had to compress the timeline for the stage.


  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Measles", Miss Brooks catches the measles within twelve hours of being exposed to them.

     Video Games  

  • In All Aboard, the game 4 of Westward, citizens can suddenly become sick, rendering them unable to work. They either heal after so many minutes or can be taken to the doctor's office for a quick heal.
    • Game 5 Kingdoms adapts this from a simple illness into being turned into a frog by means of a curse, for the same effect.
  • In Skool Daze, there is an event where a student has the mumps and you must avoid all physical contact with him for the duration of break-time (a few minutes). If he does touch you, you instantly develop mumps and get sent home, ending the game.
  • In Metal Slug 3 and 4, any player character or civilian hit by infectious zombie fluids drops dead immediately, gets struck by a lightning bolt and becomes a zombie, all in the span of 2 seconds. The inverse is also true— a zombified player character merely touching a medkit is instantly cured and turns back to human immediately.
  • In Ni no Kuni right out of nowhere Oliver's mother suddenly falls to the ground; which is explained by a random NPC as "She always had a weak heart dear". This is pretty much never elaborated on at any other point.
  • If you're bitten by a mosquito during the Suez Canal chapter of Jigsaw, you will drop dead from malaria within a few turns.