One patient’s rash
In January of this year, a string of unusual patients began to trickle into dermatologist’s offices in Rochester, NY. They had red rashes on areas where they had recently had tattoos, and the usual treatments were not working.
The cases, 19 in all, were reported to the local department of public health. A team there learned that all the patients had developed the rash, which turned out to be a bacterial infection, within three weeks of getting a tattoo at a particular parlor. When they interviewed the tattoo artist, they learned that he had recently begun to use a new kind of grey ink. Such ink is often used to create shadow effects, and indeed, the patients’ rashes tended to be on the areas where the grey ink had been injected into their skin.
Strawberry tongue, a symptom of Kawasaki disease.
Scientists don’t know much about the cause of Kawasaki disease—a disease of blood vessel inflammation most commonly found in Japan—but they do know one thing: Japanese outbreaks are highly correlated with winds from central Asia. When those same winds blow thousands of miles across the Pacific to Hawaii and California, Kawasaki disease ends up there too.
The disease affects generally children under the age of five. Blood vessels through the body become inflamed, leading to rashes, a characteristic “strawberry tongue,” and death in some untreated cases. Japanese pediatrician Tomisaku Kawasaki described the first case in 1960, and incidence of the mysterious disease have been rising ever since.
In the latest issue of Nature, Jennifer Fraser profiles scientists who are looking to the wind for answers about Kawasaki disease. There are a couple examples of windspread fungal spores, just as Aspergillus sydowii that follows dust storms from Africa to the Caribbean, but conditions up high are so extreme that wind had not been seriously considered capable of spreading disease across the Pacific:
Nodding syndrome, a disease that has sickened more than a thousand children in northern Uganda since the summer, is named for its most distinctive symptom: involuntary, at times violent bobbing of the head, like someone repeatedly nodding yes or snapping out of a doze. Outbreaks of nodding syndrome cropped up in South Sudan this summer, in the same region of Uganda two years ago, in southern Sudan—not yet an independent nation—in 2001, and periodically in remote mountain villages in Tanzania. Nearly half a century has passed since the first reported case, but epidemiologists still have only a rudimentary understanding of this mysterious disease. They’ve found few hints as to what might cause it, and no effective treatments.
A study published this week in the journal Pediatrics found a link between levels of bisphenol-A in pregnant moms and behavioral problems such as anxiety and hyperactivity in their daughters at age 3. No such effects were seen in boys. BPA has estrogen-like activity and can lead to developmental and behavioral problems in animals—but whether or not it does the same in humans, and at what dosages, is a subject of considerable debate. This study won’t settle the debate but highlights the need to answer some basic questions about BPA that remain surprisingly unclear.