A recently published paper in Scientific Reports has found that climate variability in the form of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) has had a significant impact on the occurrence of disease outbreaks in Europe over the past fifty years. Researchers in France and the United Kingdom studied 2,058 outbreaks occurring in 36 countries from 114 infectious diseases from 1950 to 2009 and found that climatic variations and seasonal changes in air pressure across the continent attributed to the NAO influenced the outbreak occurrences of eleven diseases. Every conceivable route of transmission – by air, food, water and vector – was influenced by NAO conditions.
If you ever find yourself working in an infectious disease laboratory, whether it’s of the diagnostic or research variety, the overarching goal is not to put any microbes in your eye, an open wound or your mouth. Easy enough, right? Wear gloves, maybe goggles, work in fume hoods and don’t mouth pipette. When working with pathogenic bacteria and viruses, priority number one is Do Not Self-Inoculate.
Just two months ago, I had the distinct pleasure of acting not as a science scholar but as a research participant. Instead of having my face in a book, I willingly offered it to a woman who diligently scraped my forehead in search of Demodex mites. I know that it’s everyone’s humble dream to contribute their own exquisite arachnological flora to Science with an S and so, yes Reader, I can feel your oozing envy.
That insistent buzzing drone you hear? It’s the sound of our burgeoning mosquito problem and the nasty diseases that they carry wreaking havoc throughout the world. 2012 was a prodigious year for mosquito-borne arboviral diseases, with West Nile virus, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, dengue and yellow fever outbreaks and epidemics raging in the United States, the Sudan, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Peru, Brazil and many other nations besides.
Storms a’comin’! For those readers who don’t know, the headquarters of this blog is located in New Orleans, Louisiana, the current target for Hurricane Isaac. It is lumbering towards us at a “take your time” speed of 7 to 10 miles per hour and in a few short hours will inundate us with a good amount of rain and ~100 mph winds. I’m hunkering down in my house with gallons of water, snacks of dubious nutritional value (cheese-in-a-can? brown sugar baked beans? eight-dollar warm white wine? really?) and with a pile of board games ready to sit out the next 40 hours with family, friends and my boxer.
Amongst its many epicurean, architectural and otherwise louche charms, New Orleans has another infamous, uncelebrated one: a problematically vibrant cockroach population. Every summer (oh, let’s be honest here: they’re here spring, summer and fall), the German brown cockroach can be seen snatching its way around your house, flitting on sidewalks at dusk, and intimidating the locals.
Nobel Prizes! We all want one, don’t we? While fantasizing about heavy gold medallions and the Swedish Nobel Assembly, I wondered how many of the Nobel Laureate prizes in Physiology and/or Medicine have gone towards scientists studying infectious diseases, immunology and the tropical medicine field. Snooze button alert, am I right? This is the product of a one-track mind so you have my apologies. But! If it’s any consolation, there’s a story hidden in this article of a Nobel Laureate Nazi sympathizer that infected mental patients with malaria to cure them of their psychoses. Science!
It’s getting to be summer time in the Northern Hemisphere and I’m starting to see more creepy-crawlies outside, inside and attacking my personal space. Spiders, mosquitoes and cockroaches are becoming an increasingly common, unpleasant sight. Finding these beasties in random corners of my house and ruthlessly killing them had me thinking about the human-insect relationship, in particular the special one we have with ectoparasites. Ectoparasites depend upon mammals for their survival but there are several that rely on humans specifically and have co-evolved over hundreds of years to inhabit our bodies. Examples include the sucking lice (body, head and crab), bed bugs, fleas and mites.
I love this picture of a female lone start tick and her enormous egg mass not just because of the striking imagery, but because it confronts the viewer with a major difficulty commonly encountered in tick and tick-borne disease control – reducing the dangers of a relatively small but fast reproducing species capable of stealthy and lethal infection. Many public health and entomology initiatives focus on mosquitoes but I’ve always found ticks to be the more fascinating arthropod. They’ve got that essential “creepy” factor but they’re also prodigious reproducers and can transmit a slew of truly nasty diseases. Renewed interest for public health practitioners in these creatures stems from the growing problem of habitat change that is resulting in increasing numbers of habitats and climates well-suited to ticks.