The Best of 2016

By Rebecca Kreston | December 29, 2016 5:43 pm

This was a strange and uncertain year. Given the tumultuous nature of 2016, it is probably no surprise that I found myself asking some strange questions that my readers seemed only too grateful to have answered.

Why does everyone have herpes? What’s going to happen to the chickenpox virus if everyone gets vaccinated? What daring eccentric devised the concept of jamming a hollow needle in a vein and then flushing the body with fluid? Are we all going to die because anthrax-ridden reindeer have emerged in Russia? Which American president survived the greatest number of plagues and epidemics?

Those questions and more were all answered in the ten most popular articles from the Body Horrors site this year. Please enjoy, reflect on the invariable strangeness of this great planet Earth, and come back for more in the upcoming year.

A World of Her Own

Christina's World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth. Click for source. To visit MOMA's page on the artwork, click here.

It is one of the most iconic works in modern art, depicting a frail woman reaching for a distant farmhouse. For many years, the question of the true nature of this woman’s illness – whether it be a case of polio infection or something much rarer – continues to puzzle art historians and physicians.

Half of the World Has Herpes
Herpes is dang near everywhere and infects dang near everyone.

A lithograph from 1898 of an infant with congenital syphilis, illustrating many of the symptoms of the disease, including pustules, inflammatory keratitis, and wrinkled skin. Image: Wellcome Library, London. Click for source.

Syphilis, The Chameleon of Medicine

Syphilis can make you go bald, go mad, or appear as an out-of-the-blue psychosis in your previously unflappable grandpa. It is the copycat disease, the “great pretender,” and a true chameleon.

Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing: The “Epidemic” that Duped the Nazis

“I was not able to fight with a gun or a sword but I found a way to scare the Germans.” The story of a fictional plague that spooked the Germans and saved the lives of 8,000 Poles.

The Origins of Intravenous Fluids

A colored lithograph by from 1832 of a deceased cholera victim. Note the blue complexion, sunken face, and emaciated extremities. Source: Wellcome Collection. Click for source.

The strange idea of intravenous fluid resuscitation, a remedy that breaches the skin and veins and violates the sanctity of the human body, originated with infamous and deadly cholera.

A Herald of the AIDS Epidemic

The diligence and careful eye of a CDC employee led to the recognition of the burgeoning HIV epidemic in the 1980s.

A Pox No MoreA man infected with the chickenpox virus. Image: CDC / Renelle Woodall.

A commonplace virus of childhood may soon be no more due to widespread vaccination.

The Bad Sausage & The Discovery of Botulism

The discovery of the world’s most famous neurotoxin began with some very inauspicious culinary choices.

An Anthrax Blast from the PastA portrait of George Washington by James Barton Longacre, ca. 1845. Image: Library of Congress. Click for source.

The 75-year-old corpses of reindeer infected with anthrax led to a small outbreak of the deadly pathogen among a nomadic tribe of reindeer herders in remote Russia.

The Nine Lives of George Washington

The most American of men, George Washington was a war hero, public health visionary, and multi-plague survivor.



Body Horrors

Body Horrors looks at the history, anthropology and geography of infectious diseases and parasites.

About Rebecca Kreston

Rebecca Kreston is an infectious disease scholar trained in microbiology and epidemiology. She obtained her Biology degree from Reed College and her Masters of Science in Tropical Medicine from Tulane University. She's lived in tropical jungles, beaches and deserts around the world and has been exposed to several of the diseases that she studies. She currently lives in New Orleans, is a fourth year medical student and regularly battles insects of the Diptera, Siphonaptera and Hymenoptera orders.

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